Monday, December 08, 2008

Loss of Big Three Would Cost Wisconsin 85,000 Jobs

A new research study from the Economic Policy Institute says that if the big three automakers go out of business it will cost Wisconsin about 85,000 jobs, and drive our unemployment rate up an additional 0.8%. Not good.

EPI is a somewhat left-leaning think tank which receives some of its funding from labor unions, and the study will undoubtedly be attacked for that reason. But the question should be if EPI's methodology is justified, and therefore if its estimates are accurate. I'm not an economist, but here's what I found when I researched the numbers.

EPI breaks job auto-industry dependent jobs into three categories: Direct, indirect, and re-spending. Direct jobs are the 123,000 people who work for the Big Three. Indirect jobs are in industries that supply parts, materials, and services to the Big Three. EPI estimates indirect jobs by looking at how much the Big Three spend on parts, materials, and services as a proportion of the total income of those industries in the US. Pretty straightforward, and EPI comes up with 650,000 indirect jobs.

Re-spending jobs are those that result from the roughly 775,000 workers in direct and indirect jobs spending their salaries. Here's where it gets trickier. EPI calculates a re-spending multiplier of 1.7; in other words, every auto-industry job results in an average of 1.7 jobs in the consumer retail and service industries. Sounds reasonable, and certainly within the range of similar economic studies, but EPI doesn't really explain how they derived it. The reference they give is to the appendix of another EPI paper that doesn't have anything to do with the specifics of the auto industry. So although the 1.7 number is probably in the ballpark, it's the easiest thing in the paper to attack because EPI did a lousy job justifying it.

Anyway, taking everything together, EPI estimates that 2.1 million US jobs will lost of the Big Three go under. And a big bunch of those jobs will be right here in Wisconsin.

If you're wondering why Republicans seem so reluctant to help US automakers, yet just a few weeks ago were tripping over themselves to throw money at banks and insurance companies, the EPI study provides a clue. Can you guess which part of the US the will be least damaged by a failure of the Big Three?

Turns out it's Washington DC...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Give Thanks for Turkey Basters

So, big turkeys are "inefficient breeders", which means there's one more thing we should all give thanks for tomorrow: The humble turkey baster. Turns out that without this versatile tool far fewer of us would be able to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal...
Anderson, who has bred the birds for 26 years, said the key technical advance was artificial insemination, which came into widespread use in the 1960s, right around the time that turkey size starts to skyrocket. The reason is that turkeys over 30 pounds are "inefficient" breeders: It's difficult for them to actually perform the natural mating act. With artificial insemination, the largest birds can still be used as sires, even if they have a hard time walking, let alone engaging in sexual reproduction.

"You can spread the one tom around better. It adds a whole new level of efficiency. You can spread him over more hens," Anderson said. "It takes the lid off how big the bird can be. If the size of the bird keeps them from mating, then you're stuck."

Comments are now open for big turkey jokes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"The Last Time We Vote For Bigotry"

My title is from a Huffington Post article in which the author argues that gays should never again back a presidential candidate, like Obama, who doesn't support gay marriage. While you can debate the effectiveness of such a strategy, it looks like it's already happening. Exit polls from November's election show a startling trend: Gays have deserted the Democratic party at rates far higher than any other group.

The chart below, from, shows shifts in presidential voting patterns compared to 2004. Groups below the horizontal line voted more Republican in 2008 than in 2004. While Obama did amazingly well with almost every demographic, there are three groups where he lost votes compared to Kerry: "Small town" (-6%), "Decide last three days" (-8%), and "Gay" (-11%).

(Click on the chart for a version you can actually read)

Although I don't have the data to prove it, my guess is that this is a result of Democratic-leaning gays not voting, rather than gays as a group becoming more Republican. If so, this likely occurred more in safe states like California than in swing states like Wisconsin.

This trend will probably continue, and perhaps even accelerate, until the Democratic Party finally elects a presidential candidate who openly supports gay marriage. While it's unlikely to affect the top of the ticket, it could have an impact in close races further down the ballot.

In the past Democrats have almost always paid a price for supporting gay rights. In the future they will increasingly pay that price for not doing so.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Obama's Lieberman Gamble

On the flip side, the best argument I've seen for being nice to Lieberman is this Time Magazine article. Only time will tell if Obama made the right decision, but I sure hope it was made very clear to Lieberman that if he steps one inch off the ranch in the future he'll instantly be demoted to bellboy with a brand new office somewhere in the boiler room of the Senate Office Building.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why I Love Dailykos

Markos tells it like it is...


VA-Gov: Would you buy shit from McAuliffe?


[Terry] McAuliffe’s pals dismiss such criticism and say his unique blend of charm and cash will prove irresistible.

"Terry could sell shit to the zoo," explains longtime pal Paul Begala. "He’s the best salesman in the world."

Right. Is that why Democrats made huge gains during his tenure as DNC chairmanship in those ass-kicking 2002 and 2004 elections? Is that why Hillary Clinton is President of the United States?

Terry McAuliffe can obviously sell shit to Paul Begala. He has a harder time selling it to people outside his circle of shit-buying friends.

Friday, November 07, 2008

2008 Presidential Results and Analysis - Part 2

This map shows the number of votes Obama or McCain won each county by. You can clearly see the electoral importance of the larger urban areas in Wisconsin, particularly Milwaukee and Madison. Three-quarters of Obama's 412,000 vote margin came from Milwaukee County and Dane County alone. But even if you ignore those two counties completely, Obama still would have won the state by more than 100,000 votes, ten times Kerry's total margin in 2004.

(For higher resolution versions of any of my maps please contact me)

Obama ran a truly statewide campaign, with almost sixty campaign offices, some in parts of Wisconsin that had never before seen a presidential ground presence. Many of those offices were cooperative efforts between the campaign and county parties, and the eagerness of so many county parties to grab the ball and run with it was amazing. Those local grassroots efforts will result in a bigger and stronger Democratic Party, and bode well for even more success in the future.

Obama's victory represents, in a very real sense, the culmination of Howard Dean's fifty-state strategy. You can't win if you don't play, and Obama played, and won, almost everywhere. I was an early Dean supporter because I recognized that Dean's vision for the Democratic Party represented our best hope to turn around three decades of Republican domination. Although Dean didn't win the nomination in 2004, his willingness, as DNC Chair, to push for new ideas and strategies, despite relentless opposition from the party establishment, paved the way for what happened on November 4th.

Democrats have an awful lot to be thankful for this year, and we owe most of that to two extraordinary leaders: President-elect Barak Obama, and DNC Chair Howard Dean.

2008 Presidential Results and Analysis - Part 1

The map below shows the Wisconsin county-by-county percent margin in the 2008 presidential race. I'm working on several additional maps that will show vote totals by county, and trends since the 2004 election, but that will take a bit longer so I wanted to get this one up now.

(For higher resolution versions of any of my maps please contact me)

To me the most interesting thing is that although Wisconsin is far more blue than in 2004, the overall pattern is amazingly similar. Partisan identities are remarkably stable, and although swing voters may trend one way or another in any given election, the underlying demographics change quite slowly. Anyway, this will all be easier to see when I finish the maps and get the rest of them posted.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Palin Formula

McCain's logic:
"Let's see, my veep has to help fire up my base and pick up Democratic votes. Obama won the Democratic primary because he's young and pretty, and Hillary almost won because, well, she has boobs.

So Democrats will vote for me if I pick a young (hell, everybody is young compared to me), good looking women, but she has to be really conservative to keep the religious nuts happy.

Maybe Palin? No experience, but if she has to take over I sure as hell won't be around to worry about it...

Gotta give her a call ASAP.

Damn cell phone, how do I turn it on?"

Trophy Wife, Trophy Veep

John McCain sure seems to have a thing for ex beauty queens...

Monday, August 25, 2008


(Boats on the River Corrib near Galway Bay. Click for larger image)

I haven't been doing much political stuff lately because I'm in Ireland. Right now we're in Galway on the west coast. Beautiful area! The locals tell me that this has been the wettest summer in Ireland's history, but that doesn't seem to slow the Irish down. Check out the guys below who were out swimming yesterday even though it was sixty degrees, raining, and blowing so hard that the raindrops hurt. I know the picture could be better, but even for a photographer the conditions were rather tough...

(The diving platform, Galway/Salthill. Click for larger image)

Bartoshevich Bites Back -or- Spite Makes Right!

Debra Bartoshevich is the Clinton delegate from Waterford who was (rightfully) stripped of her credentials for saying she would vote for McCain. Now Bartoshevich is starring in the new McCain ad below.

I understand Bartoshevich's pain and frustration, but not her willingness to try to extract revenge by selling out both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic values that Bartoshevich claims she believes in. I suspect that this is an act that Debra Bartoshevich will look back on with well deserved shame.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


So I was watching the Olympics opening ceremony with my family last night, and on comes the McCain ad you see below. An attack ad! On the first night of the Olympics!

I used to have some respect for McCain, but he's turned into a real piece of crap. Seems the only thing he learned from the vicious smears about his adopted daughter in the 2000 campaign was to hire the guys who did them this time around.

John McCain: Proving that if you're old enough, integrity is just another word you can't remember.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

The Republican effort to kill the UW system seems to be working. Another prominent scientist just left UW-Madison for greener (in more ways than one) pastures.

Jon Foley, the founder and director of the UW-Madison's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, was earning about $115,000 here at the UW. Not bad, but the University of Minnesota offered him a position as head of their Institute on the Environment, at twice his UW salary, plus a cool 1.2 million dollars of start-up mad money. Pretty sweet! UW-Madison wasn't able to come anywhere close to matching such an offer, so we lost one more of our heavy hitters.

Usually when a superstar like Foley gets lured away it's difficult to pin the blame on anything specific, but in this case we have a pretty good idea what happened. Seems Foley explained the situation in an email that he sent to friends, and that email was leaked to the State Journal. Here's part of what he had to say:
"It is remarkable how big a difference having a constructive and supportive legislature — even when money is still tight — makes in campus morale and attitude. There is a startling difference between the two universities (UW-Madison and the University of Minnesota) right now."
Perhaps influenced by their party's growing antipathy towards science and education, Republicans have spent the past two decades trying to turn Wisconsin into an intellectual and economic wasteland by cutting money out of higher education and putting it into prisons. Our great universities may be rotting from the inside out, but being Tough on Crime® has sure helped a lot of Republicans get elected. Besides, we've locked up a heck of a lot more scary black folks, and who could complain about that?

Check out the chart below showing how state funding for UW-Madison has changed over the past twenty years. Pretty sad, although there has been a slight improvement recently. No doubt just a coincidence that the upturn occurred as Democrats took more power in the legislature. Click on the chart for a larger version. Email me if you'd like the data in a spreadsheet.


Full disclosure: My wife is a professor at UW-Madison. Coincidentally, she was also recently offered a significantly higher salary to take a high-profile position at a school in another state. Although she turned it down, we probably would have left if our kids weren't still in primary and secondary school here.

My wife is prominent enough in her field that she'll continue to be recruited by both private industry and other universities in the future, and in a few years our kids will be old enough to no longer be a factor. Unless state funding priorities change drastically, it's likely that she'll become one more symptom of the brain-drain that threatens the UW system.

Money isn't everything when it comes to academia, but only fools, and some Republicans, seem to think that it doesn't matter.

Is Coal the New Oil?

Something very strange is happening to coal prices in the US. A massive discrepancy has opened between prices east and west of the Mississippi, with the far west flat at around $12 to $15 per ton and the east soaring to nearly $150 ton, triple last year's prices.

Because coal is expensive to ship, and rail and barge transportation is limited, coal is usually three to four times more expensive in the east than in the west. But as you can see from the chart at the bottom, the current trends are extraordinary.

Coal matters because most of our electricity comes from coal. Higher coal prices inevitably mean higher electricity prices, which we all pay. But what could be causing such an odd and dramatic price increase? The usual market forces don't seem to explain things. Demand for coal in the US has been flat, exports haven't increased significantly, and inventories are reasonably high. This leaves market speculation as a real, and likely, possibility.

Speculation in energy markets tends to occur where there's the least regulation and, perhaps even more importantly in the Bush era, the least regulatory attention. After Enron it became very hard to manipulate the electricity market. Too many nosy people keeping an eye on things. As a result, over the past five years or so, speculators moved into oil, but given all the attention they've been getting in that market, perhaps they're starting to put their money elsewhere. Coal would be a logical choice. The coal market is much more geographically fragmented than oil, making it easier to control and manipulate. And, at least in the eastern US, the coal market is also fairly inelastic, again making it easier to manipulate.

Looks like coal could become the new oil. Enormous profits for the few, much higher energy costs for the rest of us. It's the American way.

Click on chart for a larger version. Source: EIA. The Powder River Basin is in Montana and Wyoming, and the Uinta Basin is in Colorado and Utah.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jim Doyle Leaving, Barbara Lawton to Become Governor!

I'm jumping the gun a bit, but every indication is that Jim Doyle is packing his bags for an appointment in the Obama administration. The positions I've heard mentioned include AG, Health and Human Services, perhaps an appellate court judgeship, or maybe even ambassador to Ireland. Doyle really likes Ireland.

Normally the transition to a new governor in a situation like this would be fairly smooth. This one might be a lot more interesting due to the rocky relationship between Doyle and Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton. While I don't expect any big immediate policy changes, there might be an awful lot of Doylies looking for jobs when their patron saint leaves town.

No matter what position he takes in the Obama administration, Doyle is unlikely to bring more than a handful of people with him, and that means a bunch of folks who hitched their star to his are going to be out of luck. Few Doylies have ever shown Lawton much love, so she has little incentive not to roll heads at the capital and at party headquarters. Expect to see a lot of resumes floating around Madison during the next few months.

But it may not play out that way. Looks like Doyle has a plan in the works that would create a safe haven for many of his most loyal servants. A plan that would turn the Democratic Party power structure on its head. A plan that would also be an extraordinarily nasty parting shot at Barbara Lawton.

But more on that later...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Iowa Republicans Eating Their Own

The Iowa Republican Party is self destructing. It was taken over by Christian fundamentalists a few years ago, and they're rather successfully running it into the ground. Not that I'm complaining, of course.

Their latest faux pas was to boot their own US Senator, Charles Grassley, from their delegation to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota, and replace him with ... the President of the Iowa Christian Alliance!

Grassley's a moderate who isn't exactly loved by the nuts in charge of the Iowa party, but his real sin in their eyes seems to have been digging too deeply into financial irregularities surrounding certain prominent televangelists. Looks like the good Christians running the Iowa Republican Party see honesty as a virtue that only applies to the little people.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Love It!

Just When You Think Conservative Talkers Can't Get Any Worse...

...Michael Savage lowers the bar (again).

It's a new world's record! Listen to Savage mock and insult blacks, crippled kids, and women, all in less than two minutes of completely fact-free ranting!

(Download mp3 here)

And his audience loves it! Of course, they're too dumb to know that blacks die from asthma at a rate two-and-a-half times higher than whites. Or that the risk of autism is more than 90% genetically determined (sorry, paid link). Or even that being a women doesn't mean being a weak crybaby. If you don't believe me I'll send my little sister over to kick your butt.

And she can!

New High Voltage Transmission Lines - Needed or Not?

Yesterday the Wisconsin State Journal published an editorial in support of building new electrical transmission lines. While I don't agree with their damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead approach to the issue, they raise some important points.

Despite our best efforts at conservation, electricity usage will increase significantly over the next few decades as we move away from liquid fossil fuels. In twenty years most of us will drive plug-in hybrids or electric cars, and heat our houses with electricity.

Unfortunately, while the editorial mentions this increased demand, it misses the fact that increased electrical demand alone doesn't necessarily mean we need more transmission lines. Improved peak load control and distributed generation can let the existing electrical grid handle a lot more power, greatly reducing the need for new transmission lines.

But we're going to build a bunch of new transmission lines anyway. The main reason isn't demand, but supply. What the editorial gets exactly right is that increased use of renewable energy will result in significant geographical changes in electrical power generation. You build wind turbines where the wind is good, not next to existing power plants, and you need new transmission lines to get that green power to where it's going to be used.

This doesn't mean that every new transmission line is justified. But don't make the mistake of thinking that we're going to simply conserve our way out of this issue either.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Madison Robocall Credit Card Scam

Watch out! I just got a robocall from "Visa and Mastercard" saying that my credit card rate was going up, but that I had been selected to receive a lower fixed rate. To receive this special rate all I had to do was press six to talk to a customer service representative.

Of course I pressed six. I let the guy go through his spiel , then I asked him what company was doing the calls. He said "Visa and Mastercard." So I said, "No, what company are you working for?" He immediately hung up on me. Pretty safe bet this is an identity theft scam. If you get a call like this, particularly if you have caller ID and can get the originating phone number, please call the WI Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, 608-224-4949, and let them know about it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why is Gas So Cheap?

Gasoline is amazingly cheap. I know this sounds stupid, but bear with me. If you drive a car the implications are important.

Gasoline is made from oil. At the current price of $147 a barrel, a gallon of crude costs $3.50. Historically gasoline has retailed between 1.5 to 2 times the cost of the oil it's made from. Today that ratio is 1.2. By historical norms gasoline should be well over five dollars a gallon, and probably closer to seven. This means that even if crude oil prices stabilize or drop a bit, gasoline prices could still soar.

But they probably won't.

Diesel prices will go up. So will heating oil, and jet fuel. But we got lucky on gasoline. Most of the world is switching to diesel engines, and for good reason. They're a lot more efficient than gasoline engines. But the result is that there's a relative glut of gasoline, forcing prices down compared to other oil products. Refineries can't quickly or easily change the mix of products they produce, so as worldwide demand increases for diesel fuel, they end up with lots of gasoline that they need to get rid of, so they're willing to sell it cheap.

Eventually refineries will fix this problem, and gasoline prices relative to crude oil will increase significantly. But this will take years, and until then we're getting a break compared to the rest of the world. Gasoline prices are still directly tied to the price of crude, so if crude oil prices go up so will gasoline, just less than other fuels. Of course, if we do something stupid, like attacking Iran, you can expect gas prices to go through the roof.

The big question is if we'll use our temporary cost advantage compared to the rest of the world to smooth the inevitable and expensive transition away from liquid fossil fuels, or just piss it away by continuing to drive big cars and SUV's. Given that this is America, it's pretty safe to bet on the latter.

For a good, if rather wonkish, discussion of gasoline prices relative to other fuels check out this post and discussion on The Oil Drum. It's a great site if you're into peak oil and energy policy.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Get Your "McCain is Aware of the Internet" Shirt While They Last

At a Personal Democracy Forum event a few days ago, one of John McCain's technical gurus, trying to defend MCain's complete lack of computer skills, claimed "John McCain is aware of the internet."

Wow! Who knew McCain was so so sharp?

But it gets even better. CNN, which broadcast the event, apparently thought the comment was so newsworthy that they made a T-shirt out of it! Twenty bucks, including shipping. But you better get one soon if you're interested. I'm sure the McCain folks aren't very happy with the situation, and they're probably going to bring the hammer down on CNN.

Friday, June 27, 2008

America's Funniest Political Videos: Republican Logic!

Watch Mitt Romney try so hard to stick to his talking point that McCain is bipartisan and Obama isn't that he backs himself into a logical corner and is forced to claim that nuclear nonproliferation is a "liberal" position. Hilarious!

Hard to believe this guy was a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Of course, I feel the same way about Mr. no-idea-how-to-use-a-computer McCain.

Nice catch by TPM TV!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

FISA - Good Dems and Bad Dems

FISA, almost certainly including telecom immunity, is a done deal. The cloture vote to stop debate passed 80 to 15, and below I've listed the Dems who voted for and against cloture.

Although the vote on the actual FISA bill may not occur for a while, it's the cloture vote that really counts. The lopsided vote clearly shows that the Democratic leadership supported the bill, despite Senator Reed's "reservations".

It's now unlikely that telecom immunity will be successfully stripped out unless Obama personally leads the charge against it. And although some of the Democrats who voted for cloture will likely vote against the eventual bill, don't be fooled. They knew that cloture, which requires 60 votes, was the only real chance we had to defeat the bill and thereby obtain any meaningful compromise from the White House.

Senator Feingold, as usual, fought the good fight. Senator Kohl, as is too often the case, sold us out. Obama missed the vote, as did Hillary and McCain. Shame on them. Regardless of where they stand, every elected official should be on the record when it comes to important issues like this.


CA - Boxer
CT - Dodd
DE - Biden
IA - Harkin
IL - Durbin
MA - Kerry
NJ - Lautenberg
NJ - Menendez
NY - Schumer
OH - Brown
OR - Wyden
VT - Leahy
WA - Cantwell
WI - Feingold


AR - Lincoln
AR - Pryor
CA - Feinstein
CO - Salazar
DE - Carper
FL - Nelson
HI - Akaka
HI - Inouye
IN - Bayh
LA - Landrieu
MD - Cardin
MD - Mikulski
MI - Levin
MI - Stabenow
MN - Klobuchar
MO - McCaskill
MT - Baucus
MT - Tester
ND - Conrad
ND - Dorgan
NE - Nelson
NM - Bingaman
NV - Reid
PA - Casey
RI - Reed
RI - Whitehouse
SD - Johnson
VA - Webb
WA - Murray
WI - Kohl
WV - Rockefeller

If any of my Democratic friends are considering letting loose on me in the comments, be aware that I fully understand the political calculus behind the vote. I just don't agree with it.

Democrats succeed when we stand up for Democratic values, not when we cower and pretend we're corporate Republicans. That's the fundamental political lesson we should have learned over the last thirty years. Unfortunately, far too many Dem leaders aren't smart enough to realize that, or are simply too comfortable with the status quo to risk change.

Stop FISA Telecom Immunity: Call Obama

The single most important thing you can do to stop telecom immunity is to call Obama's national campaign office and tell him how you feel:


Obama's position is that while he opposes telecom immunity, he'll vote for the bill anyway. This is unacceptable. Call him:


I spoke to the campaign folks earlier today, and they're getting lots of calls about FISA. They need lots more:


Obama is the key. He's the nominal leader of the Democratic Party, and if he comes out strongly against telecom immunity the rest of the Democrats will fall into line. Do your part. Call Obama's campaign office and give them hell! (Politely, of course)


Call now, or I'll have to repeat that number again!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day and PTSD

Yesterday was Father's Day, but I don't have many happy stories to tell about my father. Forty years ago, when I was nine, I lost him to the Vietnam war.

My father was a Major in the U.S. Army Special Forces, a Green Beret, who did repeated tours in Southeast Asia starting in the late 50's. His luck held for a while, but eventually he was severely injured in combat. Sadly, he probably could have been saved if he had received medical care in time, but the seriousness of his wounds weren't recognized until it was too late.

The reason that my father didn't get the treatment he needed was that his wounds were mental, not physical. He suffered from what we would now call severe post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and in the end he became so violent and dangerous that he had to be institutionalized.

Four decades later PTSD is still an enormous and unsolved problem. Many more soldiers who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan will end up committing suicide due to PTSD than will be killed in action*, yet we spend hundreds of times more on equipment and training to protect our troops in combat than we do on their mental health.

We ignore the problem because it mainly strikes after a soldier leaves the military. To put it bluntly, while every combat death is national news, a veteran who commits suicide is just a few lines in the obituary column of the local paper.

Please take the time to learn more about PTSD. A good place to start is a Washington Post article called The War Inside. It uses the stories of individual vets suffering from PTSD to explore the bigger issue, and it paints a picture of a military health care system that's crumbling under the strain of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan:
"The military is also battling a crisis in mental-health care. Licensed psychologists are leaving at a far faster rate than they are being replaced. Their ranks have dwindled from 450 to 350 in recent years. Many said they left because they could not handle the stress of facing such pained soldiers."
Father's Day will always be bittersweet for me. Although I have two wonderful sons, I never really got to know my own father. He served our country with honor, yet we failed him when he most needed our help. The children of today's soldiers deserve better. Learn about PTSD, and demand that we provide the best possible care, physical and mental, for our wounded soldiers and veterans. We owe them nothing less.


* A recent study of over 300,000 US veterans showed that they have a suicide rate twice that of the general population. This means that almost 3% of all veterans commit suicide, with about half of those deaths being due to service-related mental illness, as compared to the current combat mortality rate in Iraq and Afghanistan of a little less than 1%. Analysis based on the current US suicide rate (2004) of 1.4%, expressed as the ratio of suicide deaths to total deaths from all causes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ron Paul Booted From RNC Convention, Will Have His Own!

I love this. The RNC decided not to let Ron Paul speak at the Republican Convention in Minneapolis this summer, so he's going to hold his own convention. In Minneapolis. At the same time as the Republicans.

And we thought it was messy on our side of the fence...

Monday, June 09, 2008

US Special Forces Using Banned Ammo?

Wars are about killing people, and the more quickly and efficiently you kill the other guy the more likely you are to win. But there are international restrictions, generally referred to as the rules of war, on the types of weapons you can use, and how and under what conditions you can use them. One of those restrictions, which we claim to observe but are not a signatory to, is the 1899 Hague Declaration, which forbids the use of bullets which expand on impact to create larger wounds. I'm not going to get into the philosophy or wisdom of the Hague Declaration except to note that we've always given it lip service, if little more, in the past. Even that may no longer be the case.

US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) recently purchased a new type of ammunition, referred to as "5.56 Optimized" or "brown tip" (because the tip is painted brown to distinguish it from other rounds), which appears to use a bullet based on the civilian Barnes Triple-Shock X hunting bullet shown in the picture below. As you can see, this bullet would be banned under the Hague Convention.

Bullets are designed for making holes in things, and from the military's standpoint the bigger the hole the better. The M16 and its variants fire very high velocity but small diameter bullets. Little holes aren't very good for killing people, but our standard M855 round, at typical combat ranges, fragments after impact to create a massive wound channel. It's perhaps the most effective and deadly small-arms round in the world. But the same round fired from guns with shorter barrels, such as the M4 carbine and some versions of the SCAR, doesn't have enough muzzle velocity to consistently fragment, making it much less lethal.

Enter the 5.56 Optimized. Expanding bullets are designed to work properly over a broad range of velocities, so they're deadly even when fired from more compact weapons better suited for urban warfare. The 5.56 Optimized is also "green" because it's made from copper rather than lead, which, believe it or not, is a major concern of our military right now.

And the Hague Declaration? Well, if necessary we'll just have to find a way around it. Considering that the M855 meets the letter of the Hague Declaration while violating everything it stands for, I can't imagine we'll let international concerns get in our way. Damn all those European humanitarians anyway. They have no idea what it's like to fight a real war!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Reform Dem Challenges The Proletariat!

UPDATE: Henry has responded! Check the comments for the latest.

Henry Dubb (a pseudonym), on his blog The Proletariat, has been spouting a lot of wild and crazy stuff about Obama and the Democratic Party. He's certainly entitled to his opinions, uninformed though they may be, but now he's crossed the line, forcing me to bring out the heavy artillery. Henry is predicting that:

"Obama will lose big come November."

Well, I'm not going to take that lying down! Since we can't seem to discuss the error of his ways, mainly because Henry is still deleting most of the comments I leave on his blog, I issued him the following challenge:

Henry, I'll bet you a case of beer, or $50 to a charity of the winner's choice, that Obama wins this fall. Since you're so sure how things are going to turn out, this should be a no-brainer. My only condition is that both of us announce the bet, and the settlement, in posts on our blogs. No backing out when the going gets tough.

Talk is cheap. Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? Email me:

And you're still dumping my comments. Why do I scare you so much? If you can't go toe to toe with people who don't agree with you then maybe you should find a hobby that doesn't involve expressing your opinions quite so publicly.


So what will it be, Henry? I've thrown down the gauntlet. Is what you write just hysterical anti-Obama propaganda, or do you actually believe it?

I'll be waiting...

(That's me with the blue lightsaber, and Henry with the red. I don't think his horns are visible under normal circumstances.)

Why Obama Matters: Young Voters

"Get 'em while they're young" is the key to making real political change in America. People tend to form their political identities based on the first couple of elections they participate in. Take a look at the chart below, it shows the big reason Obama has so much potential to move this country in the right direction.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Howard Dean to Remain as DNC Chair

Just noticed this, and I'm a bit relieved. From The Fix blog at the Washington Post:

Dean Stays at DNC, Tewes Joins

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) is moving quickly to put his imprint on the Democratic National Committee, offering a vote of confidence in current chairman Howard Dean while also installing one of his most senior political deputies in a leadership role at the party committee.

In the days since Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday night, there had been speculation that Dean might be removed in favor of a party chairman of Obama's choosing.

Obama put that speculation to rest this morning.

"Senator Obama appreciates the hard work that Chairman Dean has done to grow our party at the grassroots level and looks forward to working with him as the chairman of the Democratic Party as we go forward," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton in a statement.

Although Obama is keeping Dean, he is also ensuring that one of the main pillars of his campaign is installed at the DNC. Paul Tewes, a longtime party operative who managed Obama's Iowa caucus effort, will take over the general-election strategy at the DNC, according to several officials briefed on the decision.

Dean will announce Tewes to the DNC staff this afternoon. No title for the nomadic political operative, who served as political director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2004 cycle, has been chosen.

Those close to the DNC's operations insist that no wholesale changes will occur at the party committee. Instead, the current staff will stay intact while a number of Obama loyalists are added to bolster the committee's general election operation.

Who's the Star?

A couple of months back, when Hillary Clinton praised John McCain as a way to attack Barak Obama, who could have possibly guessed that her words would come back to haunt Democrats in the general election?

Shocking as it may seem, Clinton is the star of the brand new anti-Obama RNC ad below. There are good reasons why a lot of Democrats, myself included, didn't like the way Clinton ran her primary campaign. This rather graphically illustrates one of them:

US to Iraq: We Own You!

UPDATE: Some good historical background related to this issue here.

Somebody leaked the proposed status of forces agreement that Bush is trying to ram through the Iraqi parliament, and it's astonishing. As in we get to do any damn thing we want, and there's nothing you stupid Iraqis can do about it!

Fifty permanent US military bases, full control over Iraqi airspace, blanket immunity for US troops and contractors, complete US military freedom of action, right to arrest and hold anybody, for any reason, for as long as we want.

The pretense that one of our goals in Iraq was to establish a democracy is now gone. It isn't democracy when there's a permanent occupying force in your country that's above your laws and beyond your control.

Bush wants to get this agreement signed quickly so it will be binding on the next administration. Can't take a chance on Obama undoing all the fine work he and Cheney have done in Iraq. The sad thing is that the Iraqi government will probably go along, despite overwhelming and likely violent opposition from the Iraqi people. Why? Because everyone in the government knows that their livelihoods, and their lives, depend on staying in Bush's good graces. When the time comes most will decide it's better to be a live coward than a dead hero.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Obama Haters

I find it ironic that the the far-left and the far-right hate Obama for the same reason. They worry that if Obama is elected president he'll move the country to the left. And he will.

While it's easy to see why this bothers the right, you might think that the far-left would be pleased with the prospect. But many are not because they believe in revolution, not evolution. In their world anybody who makes things better, short of the true revolution, is a threat. A threat because revolution can only occur when the people are made to suffer.

Perhaps the oddest manifestation of this logic is the bizarre love affair some on the far-left suddenly have with Hillary Clinton. You can see this quite clearly on The Proletariat, a Madison area Green/Socialist blog. If you check it out don't bother leaving any critical comments; they'll probably just be deleted.

The Proletariat is a guy who would never vote for Clinton, yet he waxes poetic about what he sees as the unfair way she's been treated by Obama, the media, and the DNC. His real goal, of course, is simply to damage the Democratic nominee, whoever it may be, and Clinton is just a convenient club with which to whack Obama.

Intellectually honest? Not so much. But I guess anything goes in support of the revolution!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Excuse of the Week Award

I've heard some pretty creative excuses for bad behavior from my kids. But our two boys have nothing on California Republican Congressman Dan Lungren, who explained a recent junket to Hawaii this way:

[Lungren] insisted he carried out important discussions with airport executives while at the pool. "I'm a California kid," Rep. Lungren told ABC News. "I grew up around pools. We do a lot of business around pools." Asked if he would have attended if the January conference were held in Pittsburgh, Lungren said, "Do I look like I go to Pittsburgh in January?"

At least you have to give him credit for being honest about Pittsburgh. And the guy looks like he could really use a little R&R

I should point out that the other politician along on the trip was Hawaii Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye. Lobbyists are equal opportunity corrupters.

The Times They Are A-Changin' - Majority of Californians back gay marriage!

I didn't think I'd see this until my kid's generation were adults:

(AP) - More California voters now support allowing same-sex marriage than oppose it, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The results mark the first time in over three decades of polling that more California voters have approved of extending marriage to gay couples than have disapproved...

The poll found that 51 percent of respondents backed legalizing same-sex marriage and 42 percent opposed it, DiCamillo said.

In 2006, when participants were asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of California allowing homosexuals to marry members of their own sex?" 44 percent said they approved and 50 percent objected. In 1977, the first year Field posted the question to voters, 28 percent approved and 59 percent were opposed.

"The Times They Are A-Changin'", by Bob Dylan. This is the original version from Dylan's 1964 album of the same name. An oldie, but quite appropriate.

WMC Critics Get It Wrong

I think a lot of critics of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) are making a big mistake. There's reasonably broad recognition that WMC's constant harping about Wisconsin's business climate is probably driving business away from the state. Most commentators seem to see this as unintentional, if somewhat ironic, collateral damage from WMC's war on regulation and taxes. But they're wrong.

Many of WMC's largest and most powerful corporate members directly benefit from a weak Wisconsin economy. While their markets are primarily national and international, their labor costs are largely determined by the local job market. It is very clearly in their best interests to make Wisconsin seem as unattractive to business as possible. Which is exactly what WMC is doing.

Of course this is completely counter to the interests of the majority of WMC members who depend on their sales in Wisconsin to make a profit. But, as in all organizations, the big guys at the top set the course, and the little ones at the bottom often get screwed.


Paul Soglin, on his superb and thoughtful blog Waxing America, has probably done more than anyone else to dig out the truth about WMC's claims. Well worth reading.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

McKinney Goes Green

Looks like former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has sown up the Green Party's presidential nomination. While I think McCain is more at risk from third party candidates this fall, McKinney will hurt Obama. McKinney herself has a rather strange take on the the potential impact of her campaign:

"Basically, what you are suggesting is by participating in the Democratic process the Green Party is going to become, quote, 'the spoiler.' "It is impossible to become a spoiler based on past experience when one examines the past.

"In the 2000 election, 6 million votes were not counted," she said. "They were cast but not counted. It is impossible that George W. Bush won the White House on 537 votes. That was constructed. That was contrived, and the Democratic Party failed to fight for the voters who voted it into the White House. In 2004, 3 million votes were cast but not counted."

Her points about election integrity and the Democratic Party's failure to contest undercounted votes are quite valid, but claiming that she can't possibly have any effect on this election because votes weren't counted in past elections is some seriously convoluted logic. Rather self-serving, too.

McKinney had a very progressive voting record in congress, somewhat to the left of both Obama and Clinton. She's a good speaker and a tough campaigner, and will certainly make November's election more interesting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Time for Hillary to Quit

When Hillary Clinton is reduced to claiming she's still in the race because "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California," it's time for her to quit.

I realize that she wasn't saying she hopes Obama will be assassinated, but it sure came out that way. And this wasn't the first time she's invoked RFK. Once could be a mistake, but for a politician of her caliber twice is a campaign strategy.

Out of my belief in the benefits of the primary process, and my respect for friends who are Hillary supporters, I haven't previously called on her to drop out. But now it's time. Hillary Clinton is a great politician with enormous potential, but her ambition has become destructive. She's lost the race, and now she needs to ride off into the sunset while she has some credibility left.

Please call Tammy Baldwin and ask her to switch her support to Obama. I doubt anything short of a massive loss of superdelegate support will force Hillary to do the right thing and concede.

Tammy's numbers are: (608) 258-9800 (Madison), and (608) 362-2800 (Beloit).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Freudian Slip

From the new conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Leadership. See if you can spot it:
"We must fix the Milwaukee Public School system which is not only a black hole for tax dollars..."

The Letter - Alder Eli Judge and the 911 Center Oversight Board

Below is a open letter sent by a group of UW-Madison students to several Madison area news organizations regarding Alder Eli Judge's failure to attend meetings of the 911 Center Oversight Board in the year prior to Brittany Zimmerman's murder. I was given this letter by a local reporter who felt his organization had not appropriately covered it, and who wanted me to post it. Following the letter are related links including Eli Judge's response on his blog.

Before anyone tears into me, be aware that I fully understand the political and personal overtones here. This post is informational; my attempt to create a repository for everything that's been written publicly on the subject. If you know of stories or posts that I've missed, let me know. Also, given the history of some of the folks involved in this issue, please understand that I will delete any inappropriate or off-topic comments.
Open Letter to Alder Eli Judge

As your constituents, we and many other students were delighted that your campaign in 2007 was a positive, issue-oriented contest with your opponent, Lauren Woods, in which each of you testified over and over about your strong commitment to campus safety and women's safety. You each published plans for campus safety, and talked about it on your website and literature. This deep commitment to our safety was reiterated so many times that people truly believed it, voted for you, and gave you the weighty opportunity to put your words into action and fight to improve campus and community safety.

Given this background of your oft-professed passion for public safety, certainly you can understand why we are shocked and outraged at your failure to attend even one meeting of the 911 Center Oversight Board in the entirety of your term of service. This is completely unacceptable and unprecedented. It would be unacceptable if you missed nine consecutive monthly meetings of any committee, but to completely ignore the key issue that you made a centerpiece of your campaign smacks of an arrogance unrivaled even among the haughty club of elected officials you worked so hard to join last year.

Alder Judge, if you had a conflict in your schedule with the meetings of this committee, then you should have resigned your seat as soon as it was apparent so that the City of Madison could have been properly represented on the Board. To hold a seat on an oversight body of such a critical part of our public safety infrastructure, knowing that you were unable to fulfill the most basic of all duties, attendance, is to demonstrate woefully negligent indifference to the needs and safety of your constituents and Dane County as a whole. After the tragic death of Brittany Zimmerman and the galling failure of our 911 operations, many have wondered what role proper oversight could have played in preventing Brittany's unnecessary death. We will never know whether real oversight could have prevented this or other tragedies, because your habitual absences deprived the City of Madison of its role in oversight of the 911 Center operations, a critical inter-governmental public safety function.

We are left comparing your public expressions of condolence and care with your record of inaction, inattention, and indifference. Especially after an election campaign in which you raised and politicized the critical issue of public safety, as well as had surrogates criticize your opponent for missing far less important meetings, we are left with no other choice than to find your service unacceptable, and demand your immediate resignation from the 911 Center Oversight Board and the Common Council. The students of UW-Madison deserve better in a representative, and the City of Madison deserves better in its public safety efforts.

We understand that the Mayor is already taking long-overdue steps to remove you from the 911 Center Oversight Board, and we hope that you will do the honorable thing and resign your seat in order to allow service from a student who will not just talk about public safety, but who will actually show up and make a difference on behalf of the UW campus. As constituents on this campus, we deserve no less.


Lydia Barbash-(I deleted the contact info originally here)
Mingwei Huang
Karren Lawson
Kari Muldore
Kelly Rentscher
Mathew Maus
Donald Spann
Brian Febbo
John Cokins
J. Aaron Blecher
Alex Ippolito
Nicholas McCann
Zachary Hirschtritt
Jake Guyette
Josh Guyette
Katherine Baeten
Alicia Abercrombie
Darin Gaffield
Anna Hundt-Golden
Eli Judge's response.

Original Channel 27 news article.

Second Channel 27 article.

Third Channel 27 article.

Critical Badger blog post 1.

Critical Badger blog post 2.

Critical Badger blog post 3.

Something Verbose blog post.

Isthmus forum thread.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Charter Cable Becomes Big Brother

Looks like Charter Communications has decided that it can make more money by spying on its customers when they use the internet. Charter is going to record the web sites you visit and sell that information to advertising companies. Of course, they don't call it spying, they call it an "enhanced on-line experience".

I guess what makes it "enhanced" is that your loss of privacy enhances Charter's bottom line. Isn't the free market wonderful!

Might just be a good time to reconsider your choice of internet service providers if you're a Charter customer.

Monday, May 12, 2008

West Virginia

I used to do a lot of windsurfing in the Outer Banks, and to get there from Wisconsin I would drive south to Louisville Kentucky, take Route 64 east across Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, then cut south into North Carolina. West Virginia is a gorgeous state, and it was always my favorite part of the long and often boring trip.

But West Virginia is also very poor (4th lowest household income in the US), uneducated (lowest college graduation rate), and extraordinarily white (96%). As a result Hillary Clinton is going to crush Obama in the West Virginia primary tomorrow, and McCain will almost certainly win the general election there in November.

It's a real shame because West Virginia had the potential to be a swing state. But, like most of Appalachia, West Virginia simply isn't going to support a black candidate with a funny name. Call it racism, or xenophobia, or ignorance, but that's the way it is.

Beautiful state. Wonderful people. But if you don't look and talk like them they tend not to like you.


Update - Here's someone who explains this far better than I ever could:

Friday, May 09, 2008

Expecting to be Reincarnated? Better Get Your Permit First!

I'm a big believer in separation of church and state. Thank God our founding fathers included the establishment clause in the US Constitution! But China has no such restrictions, and this is one of the more bizarre results:
"On August 3, 2007, the [Chinese government's] State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) issued a set of regulations, effective September 1, 2007, that require all Tibetan lamas wishing to reincarnate to obtain prior government approval through the submission of a “reincarnation application.” In a statement accompanying the regulations, SARA called the step “an important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation of living Buddhas." - from "Tibet: Problems, Prospects, and U.S. Policy", Congressional Research Service report RL34445, April 10, 2008
While this might seem rather silly, it's actually part of China's attempt to control Tibet by controlling Tibetan Buddhism. China has done a similar thing with Catholicism, creating a tightly controlled "fake" Catholic church structure independent of Rome and the Pope. If you can't beat them, subvert them.


The image above is a Tibetan Thangka (painted banner) of the wheel of life, depicting the Six States of Existence of Tantric Buddhism. Image from this site, and a brief explanation of the wheel of life here. Click on the image for a larger version.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Electing Obama Delegates - First Thoughts

Yesterday I attended the 2nd Congressional District delegate caucus to elect pledged Obama delegates to the DNC convention in Denver. If I have time I'll do a detailed post about the process, but I came away from the caucus somewhat disappointed and dejected, so wanted to get these thoughts out first.

It seems to me that pledged delegates should be chosen based in large part on how much work they do for a campaign. Extraordinary efforts should be recognized and rewarded, and becoming a national delegate is a traditional means of doing so. In addition, the amount of work a volunteer does is a strong indication of how committed and loyal to the campaign he or she is, which is a real concern given the possibility of a fight at the convention this year.

Despite this, several people were elected delegates who, as far as I can tell, have done little or nothing to support the Obama campaign. They defeated superb and deserving candidates who have donated hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to Obama.

The delegate caucus was stacked. Quite legally, but stacked none the less. It looks like all of the Obama delegates who were elected yesterday were political insiders with ties to the Doyle administration. And while some clearly deserved to become delegates, others did not. They won because they had the support of the roughly thirty Doyle folks who were at the caucus.

Unfortunately this is par for the course. Not all all unusual when the grassroots gets rolled by political professionals. But I had some conversations at the caucus that prompted me to think about what happened, and to realize that there's a cost here that tends to get overlooked. A cost to the Democratic Party, and to our candidates.

The Party needs committed campaign volunteers to succeed. But yesterday some of our most active and successful volunteers were kicked out of the way so that politically connected insiders could grab the perks of a successful campaign. We failed to recognize and reward some truly extraordinary efforts, and by doing so we discourage such efforts in the future. Cutting our own throats. It's what Democrats do best.

WI Legislative Clean Government Rankings

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign just ranked Wisconsin legislators based on support for clean government reforms. Not surprisingly, Democrats did far better than Republicans, and in general progressive Dems did better than moderate/conservative Dems. But there are some interesting exceptions, so I made the chart below to make them easier to see. Click on it for a larger version.

My chart is identical to the original WDC chart except that I color coded the legislators by party, blue for Democrats and red for Republicans. The rankings are somewhat coarse, and legislators who received identical rankings are listed alphabetically, so I encourage you to look at WDC's full report before you reach conclusions about particular senators or representatives.

A couple of things did catch my eye. Milwaukee senator Lena Taylor, who is actually quite progressive, was in the lowest category of Democratic senators. She voted for all the reform bills, but the rankings also include bill sponsorship, and Senator Taylor didn't cosponsor of any of them. My understanding is that sponsorship was weighted less heavily than votes, but it was still enough to drag Taylor way down. I have a call into Senator Taylor's office, and I'll post her response when I get it.

Two other Democratic senators, Russ Decker and Jeff Plale, received the same low score as Taylor. Decker's district is fairly conservative, so that's an excuse, sort of, but Plale is from a solidly Democratic district. Senator Plale has a rather sordid voting history, and is probably the number one target for a primary challenge next cycle.

The very worst Democrat, by a very significant margin, is Representative Bob Ziegelbauer. Ziegelbauer basically votes like a Republican, but his district is extremely conservative, so even with his poor voting record it's still better to have a Democrat then a Republican in that seat.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fifty-five Minus Forty-five Equals Nine?

How much did Hillary Clinton win the Pennsylvania primary by? She got 55% of the vote, and Obama got 45%. 55%-45%=10%, and that's what the media seems to be reporting. But if you calculate the results she actually won by closer to 9%. Maybe not a lot of difference mathematically, but breaking the double-digit barrier is huge psychologically. So what's going on?

It's not some sort of anti-Obama plot by the MSM. This is just a classic case of the media dumbing down the news so they don't have to explain "complicated" concepts like rounding errors. Hillary got 54.7% of the vote, which rounds up to 55%, and Obama got 45.3%, which rounds down to 45%. The difference is obviously 10%, nice and neat. Wrong, of course, but nice and neat.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Scientific Fraud for Fun and Profit!

Let's say you're a giant drug company that's developed a very effective new drug which eliminates some of the serious side effects that plague similar medicines. A drug that has the potential to be fantastically profitable. Only there's a bit of a problem. People who use your new drug tend to have heart attacks. Lots of heart attacks.

What do you do?

Well, if you're Merck & Co. you fudge the data, forget to tell the FDA about all the bodies piling up during your studies, and hire consultants to write favorable review articles which you then pay well-known and respected researchers (everyone has a price) to publish as their own original work.

Unethical? Sure. Illegal? Maybe. Standard operating procedure for Big Pharma? Probably. This is the sorry tale of Vioxx (rofecoxib), a revolutionary drug that helped millions of people lead better lives, yet also killed far more Americans than the attacks on 9/11.

JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, just published a paper showing how Merck gamed the medical, scientific, and regulatory communities for years in order to protect its Vioxx profits, and a second paper detailing how Merck hid mortality data that showed significantly increased death rates for patients using Vioxx. Wednesday's Washington Post has a great story on the JAMA articles.

Vioxx is sort of a super aspirin. Like aspirin and similar nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), it reduces pain and inflammation, but it does so without causing stomach upset, bleeding, or ulcers. Vioxx is a COX-2 inhibitor, which means that it mitigates the effects of prostaglandins, chemicals in your body that cause pain and inflammation.

Unfortunately, all COX-2 inhibitors also suppress an anti-clotting chemical called prostacyclin, and increased clotting activity causes heart attacks. This effect was well known even before Vioxx hit the market, and should have set off regulatory warning bells. It appears that Merck decided to play down the drawbacks in order to maximize market share and profits. Vioxx's biggest potential market was senior citizens, a group already at significant risk for heart attacks, and acknowledging that Vioxx increased that risk even further would have had a big impact on sales.

The problem here isn't Vioxx, or for that matter any of the related COX-2 inhibitors such as Arcoxia, Celebrex, and Bextra. They're all great drugs for treating chronic pain, and are probably at least as safe as older drugs when used properly. But Vioxx wasn't used properly because Merck hid the risks. Doctors simply didn't know when Vioxx was appropriate, and when it wasn't, and a hell of a lot of people died as a result.

My interest in this issue has several roots. As a good-government liberal I'm deeply concerned about the influence of money on politics, and Merck's apparently successful manipulation of the FDA is a perfect example. Not that Merck is unique, just last month the FDA admitted that it had ignored hundreds of scientific studies questioning the safety of BPA, a common ingredient in many plastics, and instead used just two studies funded by the chemical industry to conclude that BPA is perfectly safe.

As an engineer with a strong scientific background, I'm also worried about the potential of corporate money to corrupt the scientific process. Science is the search for objective truth, and we have to be able to trust what science tells us in order to make wise policy decisions.

I also have personal connection to this issue. My wife is a pharmacologist, a scientist who studies drugs. She's had to deal with the complexities of maintaining her professional and scientific integrity while accepting grants from pharmaceutical companies. In both science and politics, money almost always comes with an agenda. Anybody who tells you otherwise is lying. Sometimes you just have to say no when they wave that big fat check in front of you.

Vioxx shows what can happen when large corporations place short-term profits ahead of human safety, and more broadly it illustrates the conflict between uncontrolled capitalism and the public good. Merck was able to buy off our political, scientific, and regulatory systems. Not surprising perhaps, but it's a serious problem that needs to be fixed. As one of my friends says, corporations don't have hearts, they have bottom lines.

(Phil Witte, 2007 Union of Concerned Scientists Editorial Cartoon Contest)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Freeway Blogging

Need to get your political message out to the general public on the cheap? This is the way. Advertisers pay good money for highway billboards because they work. I haven't seen much of this around Madison other than the (presumably official) banners on some of the overpasses near campus, so there's a lot of potential here.

Here's a link to the original Freeway Blogger's website. Check out the videos below to learn more:

Disclaimer: I'm not advocating that anybody break the law. Please read this post on the legality of posting political signs along roads before you do anything.

Monday, April 07, 2008

McCain and the Environment - Historical LCV Ratings

John McCain seems like an attractive candidate in some ways. He has a reputation as a "straight talker" who bucks party orthodoxy to vote his conscience. But when you examine his voting record things look a bit different. With the exception of a few specific issues, McCain is basically an orthodox conservative Republican.

I plan to look at McCain's history from several different angles, but let's start with his environmental record. This chart shows his ratings from the League of Conservation Voters all the way back to when he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. For comparison I've also included Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, although they obviously haven't served in the Congress as long as McCain. Click on the chart for a larger version.

McCain's ratings bounce around a bit, but basically he started bad and trended downward until 2000. Perhaps he decided his abysmal environmental record had hurt in his first presidential run, but for whatever reason he improved markedly from 2001 until 2004. Unfortunately he's been backsliding ever since.

It's rather interesting that McCain's 2007 LCV rating is zero not because he voted against environmental issues, but because he missed every single one of the fifteen environmental votes LCV used in it's analysis. LCV counts missed votes as negatives, and it's perfectly normal for senators running for president to miss some votes when they're campaigning. Both Clinton and Obama took rating hits because they missed four votes in 2007. But it's still really strange that McCain missed all fifteen of them. Almost gives you the impression that Mr. Straight Talk has been deliberately avoiding controversial votes...


1. A complete table of LCV ratings for the three current presidential candidates follows. Remember that candidates start serving the year following their election, so there's no rating for the year in which they were first elected.

2. The historical LCV ratings reports are here. Because the older documents are scans, some of them rather poor quality, I had to calculate McCain's ratings for a couple of years where sections of the reports were unreadable. I believe my numbers are accurate, but please let me know if I made any errors.

3. Up until 1989 LVC did ratings every other year (for each two-year congress), so on the chart McCain's ratings are identical for 1983-1984, 1985-1986, and 1987-1988.

4. I smoothed the trend lines in the chart. I know it isn't statistically proper and it does create some minor artifacts, but it makes the chart, which I created for public consumption, look a heck of a lot nicer.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

First Look at the Butler-Gableman Supreme Court Race Results

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with the outcome of the Supreme Court race between Louis Butler and Michael Gableman. Gableman, who is ethically challenged and at best marginally competent, won by 2.5%.

As usual the results were probably determined by money. Based on the numbers collected by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, it looks like total spending on Gablemen's behalf was about 50% higher than that for Butler, roughly $1.95 million to $1.25 million, with almost 90% of the spending coming from outside groups running so-called "issue" ads in order to avoid regulations and disclosure requirements.

Below is a map showing the county by county results with an overlay showing Wisconsin media markets. As best I can tell every market was saturated with TV ads except (as usual) area #4, the Minneapolis/St. Paul market. While I was expecting to see Butler perform better in this part of the state due to the absence of attack ads against him, Gableman is from Burnett County, and this gave him an obvious boost in Burnett and probably the surrounding counties.

If I have time I'm going to do another version of the map normalized to the results of the '04 presidential election. This would remove most of the ideological variation between the counties and therefore highlight other effects, which might be rather interesting...

The media markets are:
1. Duluth/Superior
2. Wausau/Rhinelander
3. Green Bay/Appleton
4. Minneapolis/St. Paul
5. La Crosse/Eau Claire
6. Madison
7. Milwaukee

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Updated - Why County Board Elections Matter!

(This is an updated and expanded version of an earlier post. In addition to my previous environmental ratings of Dane County Board Supervisors, I've added ratings based on human services and other issues. Don't forget to vote on April Fool's Day!)

It's easy to overlook the importance of the Dane County Board, and County Board elections, when we think about politics here in the Madison area. But the Board determines environmental, land use, and human services policy for the entire county, including Madison. As these ratings show, there's an enormous difference in the way liberal and conservative County Board members vote on these issues.

The first two charts show ratings for every County Board Supervisor based on their votes on environmental (1st chart) and non-environmental (2nd chart) issues since August 2006. I've grouped the liberal Supervisors (blue) and the conservative Supervisors (red) so you can see the rather astonishing contrast. The average score is more than 90% for liberals verses less than 20% for conservatives. Click on the charts for larger versions.

Below are the individual voting records of each Supervisor for every issue I used in my ratings. I ignored absences and abstentions when I calculated the percentage ratings, but they're shown in the vote records. Some County Board members miss a heck of a lot of meetings, and you should consider that when you evaluate them.

Finally, here's info about each vote that went into these ratings. The numbering corresponds to the charts above. For more details go to the Dane County Board Minutes and Agendas web page, and use the dates in the tables below to find the appropriate minutes. Keep in mind that many of these votes are on amendments or proceedural moves, so you may have to work backwards through the history of the issue to really understand what's going on.

Vote #DateMinutes PageItemSignificance
18/17/2006108-109Res. 73Purchase of conservation land - Dunn, Pleasant Springs.
9/21/2006147-148Res. 102Delay action on purchase of land next to Brigham Park.
39/21/2006150-151Res. 103Independent study on power lines.
411/15/2006193BudgetCut conservation fund from $5 million to $1 million.
52/1/2007269Petition 9335Zoning change to permit development adjacent to Military Ridge Trail.
62/1/2007270Petition 9632Re-refer loosening zoning restrictions - Blue Mounds
73/1/2007294-320Ord. Am. 26Loosen floodplain restrictions. (Sub. 2).
84/5/2007371-372Ord. Am. 34Delay effective date of Coal tar sealcoat restrictions.
95/2/200726-28Res. 290Delay action on Bio-Ag, Town of Dunn.
108/16/2007107Petition 9721Zoning change to permit construction - Vermont.
118/16/2007114-116Res. 57 Sub. 2RTA - Adoption of Res. 57 Sub. 2.
129/6/2007134-135Petition 9611Zoning change to permit construction - Vermont.
139/20/2007146-147Petition 9474Re-refer zoning change to permit development - Springfield.
149/20/2007155-157Res. 94Motion to cut Conservation Fund.
1511/1/2007207-209Res. 127Delay action on Saddlebrook purchase.
1612/6/2008244Petition 9474Zoning change to permit development - Springfield.
1712/20/2008271-274Ord. Am. 26Postpone action on Transfer of Development Rights (TDR).

Vote #DateMinutes PageItemSignificance
Res. 36
Retirement incentive for county employees to reduce need for layoffs.
Res. 35
Honor US Troops - includes troops home language.
39/7/2006131-134Ord. Am. 7
Forbids housing discrimination based on receipt of "Section 8" assistance.
Res. 110Opposition to WI referendum banning gay marriage and civil unions.
Ord.Am. 27
Right of nursing mothers to breast feed in public locations.
64/19/20078Ord. Am. 17
Motion to permit "Section 8" housing discrimination, would reverse #3.
Ord. Am. 2. Sub. 1Requires county contractors to comply with fair labor standards.
Res. 60
Impeach Bush & Cheney.
Ord. Am. 12 Forbids county from profiting on phone calls and other services provided to jail inmates.
1010/4/2007167-169Ord. Am. 18
Strengthen fair housing requirements and enforcement.
1110/18/2007189-190Ord. Am. 19Family medical leave
1211/12/2007217-224BudgetAdd 12 new sheriff's deputies without offsetting revenue


1. Due to his voting record I listed Richard Brown as a conservative despite the fact that he was endorsed by the Democratic Party in his last run. The Dem Party actually endorsed Lisa Subeck against him this time around, and Brown was eliminated in the primary.

2. Although I did the ratings and made the charts, I didn't compile the actual vote data. Many thanks to my co-conspirator who did most of the hard work to make this post possible.

3. I apologize for using images rather than tables, but blogger has a hard time dealing with anything other than very simple tables.