Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ron Johnson's 12-point Plan to Save the Economy Achieve Relevance

The Moonie Review gave Ron Johnson some real estate on its august pages to rap with the hoi polloi and the results are ... pretty much what we've come to expect from Johnson op-eds: unfocused, atonal dog whistles without much substance.

On the plus side, however, Johnson has finally come out with a list of projects that will define his tenure in the Senate. It's only been a year and a half since declared his candidacy, ten months since he won the election, and eight months since he took office, but he's finally got a plan!

It's as close to a checklist of goals as your going to find from Johnson. A diligent voter would cut out the article and tape it to his or her fridge, then, in 2016, go through the list to see what Johnson has accomplished during his term. (You can also bookmark this post, too!)

So, without further ado, here Ron Johnson's 12-point Plan to Save the Economy:
  • Repeal of Obamacare
  • Repeal of Dodd-Frank
  • Passage of S. 1438, the so-called "Regulation Moratorium and Job Preservation Act"
  • Passage of "Cut, Cap and Balance"
  • Tax Reform
  • Implementation of "zero-based" budgeting
  • Make all entitlements structurally solvent through FY 2089 by FY 2014 (i.e. passage of the Paul Ryan Budget)
  • Turn all mandatory budget spending into discretionary budget spending
  • Biennial budgets
  • Civil Service hiring freeze
  • Expand domestic oil drilling
  • Creation of Congressional "sunset" committees
Let's take a look at these points in greater detail. Here's the preamble:
As the former chief executive officer of a midsized manufacturing business, I do understand the value of the real job producers in America. I also understand how Mr. Obama’s policies affect their ability to expand their businesses and create new jobs. What we need to do to get our economy moving again is pretty obvious. Here’s a short outline of the necessary components of a solution:

Here’s a short outline of the necessary components of a solution:
 c Repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank: Neither of these laws fixed the problems they were designed to solve, and instead, they do far more harm than good.
Much of Obamacare has yet to be enacted and the Dodd-Frank legislation was intended to regulate the financial services sector, the kind people who got us in this economic mess in the first place. Repealing Dodd-Frank will not necessarily make manufacturers want to hire more laborers. It may motivate financial services firms to hire a few more traders and/or analysts, but a Dodd-Frank repeal is little more than a gift to bankers.

And not much of a gift at that. Dodd-Frank left the specifics of the enforcement agency it "created" for other law-makers to worry about, a situation that was illustrated rather well by this Daily Show sketch. Repeal Dodd-Frank is almost entirely empty rhetoric intended to appeal to Wall Street donors' wallets. It's not policy.

c Regulation moratorium: The $1.75-trillion-per-year regulatory burden is making the United States a very unattractive place for global business investment. Imposing a moratorium on new regulations is a necessary first step in reversing the damage. A bill I introduced last month would do just that.
This isn't going to happen. Johnson's bill is an entirely unserious legislative tantrum that, according to the Weekly Standard:
Johnson has just introduced the S. 1438, the Regulation Moratorium and Job Preservation Act. The bill calls for a moratorium on federal regulations until the unemployment rate hits 7.7 percent – which is just below what it was when President Obama was sworn into office.
You can imagine how much thought went into that nonsense. This is a snotty, deeply cynical bill that is little more than a flaming bag of dogshit left on the White House front porch. If this is the best Johnson can do, the next five years will be an unspeakable waste.
c Credible plan to control spending: The elements of the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan had the support of 66 percent to 74 percent of the American people. Once consumers and investors are convinced we have spending under control, confidence will return to our economy.
This is more or less support for a piece of legislation that has little chance of passage with a Democrat in the White House, but the fascinating thing about this statement is that Johnson seems to believe that consumer confidence exists solely in an inverse ratio with government spending, which would be baffling to just about any economist.
c Tax reform: Our 70,000-page tax code costs taxpayers more than $300 billion in annual compliance costs to raise $2.2 trillion in revenue. It is riddled with special treatments that result in less efficient economic behavior. Reforms should make the system more streamlined in a way that promotes rather than harms economic growth.
Tax reform is something we can probably all agree on, the problem arises when we start to discuss the specifics. Republicans tend to want flatter and lower rates, I'd venture to say that Dems are more concerned with plugging loopholes. I'm not really sure which approach Johnson is advocated here. An example of a "special treatment" that results in less efficient economic behavior would have been nice.
c Budget reform: I will work with House members to pass legislation that will:
1. Replace “base-line” budgeting with “zero-based” budgeting.

2. Require Congress and the administration to make all entitlements structurally solvent for 75 years by fiscal 2014.

3. Require all spending to be authorized regularly by Congress. (Currently, 70 percent of the budget is on automatic pilot.)

4. Replace the annual budget process with a biennial budget process that authorizes spending in Year 1 and conducts spending oversight in Year 2.
#1 won't happen without a GOP takeover of Congress and the White House -- and even then it will be difficult for Republicans to resist the urge to spend money like they did in 2003-2006. Johnson's running out of time on #2. I don't know what kind of difference Johnson thinks #3 is going to make: does he really believe any elected official is going to vote against allocating that year's Social Security or Medicare funds, which is exactly what comprises the 70% on "automatic pilot" he wants Congress to vote on?

Which brings us to #4. In theory -- and I have to give the devil his due on this one -- biennial budgeting might not be such a bad idea. The problem with two-year federal budgets is that it makes government even less responsive to the unforeseeable needs of the people. To use a wildly hyperbolic analogy: Johnson's suggestion takes Stalin's five-year plans and turns them into two-year plans. There are a number of other issues that arise with two-yer budgets, but it might not be such a bad idea for certain aspects of the budget, like defense spending, perhaps. This way defense contractors would only have one chance every two years to win money for their extravagantly expensive weapon systems. On the other hand, firms like Oshkosh Corp. would lose out on contracts for MRAPs that have saved soldiers lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, you can see the dilemma here.

Before we move on, let take another look at #2. The only plan I've seen that claims to make all entitlements -- in other words, both Social Security and Medicare -- "solvent" in 75 years starting in 2014 is the Paul Ryan plan, which has been called a "75 year plan" by Eric Cantor, among other Republicans. So let's point out the obvious here: Johnson is backing Paul Ryan's plan in this editorial, he's just not calling it "the Ryan Plan" for obvious reasons.
c Civil service hiring freeze: Controlling the size of the federal work force would be a powerful tool in limiting the size, scope and cost of government.
Again, an easy thing to propose, but one that has limits. Right now there are 2 million federal civilian employees (sans military and post office employees). That's about the size of Wal-Mart's workforce. Now I'm not one of those lefty nutters who hates on Wal-Mart, but I do think the role of the federal government is far more complicated and important than Wal-Mart's in American society.

Besides, a freeze of hiring civil servants is usually circumvented by hiring subcontractors which can frequently be more expensive in the long run (depending on the task at hand).
c Energy security: The United States should protect our national security and help ensure price competition by fully utilizing our own natural energy resources.
Drill here, drill now! Again, another empty talking point. Opening up ANWR or the entire Gulf coast for drilling (which is currently outlawed by the state of Florida, by the way, not the federal gov't) will provide a few jobs to one industry and might lower gas prices for a short time, but it will doubtfully have an impact on the economy because American demand for oil out-strips any injection of supply our natural resources can possible introduce into the market.

c Congressional “sunset” committees: Both the House and Senate should have permanent committees whose only focus would be on the elimination of unneeded laws and regulations. More often than not, government has become part of the problem instead of the solution.
 Another committee ... that will do the trick. Either do the job yourself, or don't do it; but don't give the job to another group of 12 Senators who will just argue and bicker about Topic X when they could be doing something more important (or arguing and bickering about Topic Y). Committees are where solutions go to do die. No "chief executive officer of a midsized manufacturing business" would ever allocate important financial decisions to a committee when he can make the call himself.

So there you have it. These are the 12 things Ron Johnson wants to accomplish during his time in office.

One of the chief problems I have with this editorial is that it's written like the author was still running for office, not a sitting United States Senator. Senators write these types of op-ed pieces all the time, but their usually about one single issue, they usually describe the author's proposed solution and provide a primer on the rationale behind the fix. Johnson's piece is scatter-shot and doesn't even treat any of his proposed solutions in even superficial depth.

Any one of the Johnson 12 points would be a legislative accomplishment in and of itself. This plan feels like asking a five year old girl what she wants to be when she grows up and having her reply "I want to be a princess-veterinarian-astronaut-teacher-actress-scuba diver-singer-nurse!" Pick one and stick with it. It's going to take a ton of work and a pretty plan to make one of these things law. Maybe we'll see that plan in another 8-18 months.

Monday, August 29, 2011

No, Rebecca Kleefisch Should Not be Recalled as Part of a Package Deal with Scott Walker

This weekend the Journal-Sentinel decided to ask if Governor Walker is eventually recalled, does Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch go with him? It's a interesting question with a clear, though not necessarily obvious, answer: No.

I would be very surprised if Kleefisch is included in any efforts to recall Walker, even though I can see why there's confusion in the passages of state law cited by the MJS. Personally, I think this is much ado about nothing. Nevertheless, let's pretend that all the bickering lawyers in the world won't be able to answer this Sphinx's riddle tucked between the text of various state documents. Should that happen, and the existing guidance remain nebulous at best, it seems to me that there is ample instruction from other states on how to deal with this conundrum.

As I'm sure we all know by now, only two Governors have previously been recalled from office by their constituents: Grey Davis of California in 2003 and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921. In both states a Lieutenant Governor was elected separately from the Governor. (This is no longer the case in North Dakota, where the law was changed to create a unified ticket in the 1970s.) In both cases, the recalled Governors were replaced by other men in the subsequent recall elections while their Lieutenant Governor's remained in office.

(Back in the 1920s most Governors and Lieutenant Governors were usually elected to two year terms. North Dakotans were able to replace their Lieutenant Governor in an election the following year. The North Dakota example is also complicated by the fact that the state was essentially governed entirely by an extremely fractious GOP -- there was negligible opposition from Democrats -- so party affiliation doesn't tell the whole story. In California, however, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante remained in office under a Repubican Governor until his retirement four years and one election victory later.)

So both cases don't exactly conform to the situation Wisconsin currently faces. The only other remotely analogous circumstance occurred at the federal level with the potential impeachment of President Nixon. Even if Nixon had not resigned and was eventually impeached by Congress, the Vice President would have taken over the office, even though both men were elected on the same ticket. I know what you're thinking: But Nixon's VP wasn't elected on the same ticket at the time of his resignation since there wasn't a VP at the time. You're correct, but had Spiro Agnew not resigned in disgrace months earlier, Agnew still would have assumed the Presidency.

This, by the way, is an interesting constitutional question: the founders developed the levers of impeachment at a time when the Vice President was the consolation prize given to the first runner-up of the Presidential election (see Article II, section 1, clause 3.). The Twelfth Amendment, however, changed how we get a VP to the means we all know and love today, i.e. the Prez and the VP are elected on the same ticket. This means they are almost always from the same party (see Andrew Johnson for the notable exception to the rule) or at at least of the same agenda.

But the founders didn't change the method of impeachment, despite radically changing the structure of the executive branch with the Twelfth Amendment. The Constitution as it was originally written handed over power to an impeached President's political opposition, but as it was amended, the Constitution allows an impeached President to hand over power to a political ally. This is a pretty radical change in game plans and one that really doesn't discussed very much often (at least to my knowledge). It seems like this could be either an elegant correction to an initial mistake, a massively overlooked flaw or a sign of little they though of the VP's office.

But enough with the Constitutional Beta-testing. (I'm sure we'll come back to this at a later date.)

After gubernatorial recalls, we can look at the eight Governors that have been removed from office. They are, in order:

William Holden of North Carolina, 1871
He was impeached over his Reconstruction policies in what was more or less a power grab by his opponents. The North Carolina legislature posthumously pardoned Holden earlier this year. North Carolina elects Lieutenant Governors separately from Governors, but Holden's successor was also a member of the GOP.
David Butler of Nebraska, 1871 
Nebraska's first governor was found guilty of using state funds for personal gain shortly after entering office. Nebraska elects their LGs separately from their governors, but Butler's successor was also a Republican.

William Sulzer of New York, 1913
Sulzer was found guilty of using campaign funds for personal use, but his chief crime was not making the patronage appointments Tammany Hall ordered him to make. New York Governor and Lieutenant Governors share a ticket and following Sulzer's impeachment, his running-mate Martin Glynn succeeded him.

James Ferguson of Texas, 1917
Ferguson did not pay well with others when it came to dealing with several universities in Texas, but this was really just the final straw since he was also misusing funds for his own gain. Texas elects its very powerful LGs separately from it's governors, but a fellow Democrat

John Walton of Oklahoma, 1923
Walton, who should be something of a Progressive martyr and legend, was given the boot when he placed the entire state under martial law in order to curtail the KKK following the Tulsa race riots of 1921. Oklahoma elects their Govs and LGs separately, but his successor was also a Democrat.

Henry Johnston of Oklahoma, 1929
Now this is a really strange story: Johnson was convicted of  "general incompetence" and "neglect of duties" and it was widely believed that he was merely a puppet doing the bidding of his ... secretary! He was also followed by a fellow Dem.

Evan Mecham of Arizona, 1988
Mecham may have been the most blatantly corrupt person on this list: he loaned state funds to his car dealership business among other sketchy abuses of office.

Arizona does not have a Lieutenant Governor's office and the order of succession falls to the Secretary of State. In 1988 the Arizona legislature raced a voter recall effort to see who could remove Mecham from Office first. Impeachment won, but not before the recall effort delivered enough signatures to force a recall election (which was eventually abandoned when the state Supreme Court decided it ws no longer necessary).  This is the only instance where an official from the opposition party took over an office following a Governor's removal.

Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, 2009
Blogo was guilty of being Blogo. In Illinois, the LG and Gov run on the same ticket and Blogo's running-mate took over in the Governor's mansion upon his departure.

Only six states with Lieutenant Governors have impeached their chief executives and only two of those states elected their Govs and LGs jointly. In both cases, the LG took over once the Gov was impeached. This isn't to say that Kleefisch would take over in the event of a Walker recall (unless she ran in the subsequent election), but it does speak to how each state treated the LG's office and the Gov's office as independent entities under changing regimes.

One would imagine that the combination of LGs keeping their positions following successful recalls and succeeding their running-mates following impeachment would provide Kleefisch with a similar independence.

It's an interesting question, but ultimately one that's about as important as the Lieutenant Governor's office: that is, not very important at all. The Wisconsin LG is about as useless an office as one can imagine.

But should the Democrats successfully recall Walker, the LG could become a very interesting office, one that would essentially be using state funds to undermine the administration's message. But that's putting that cart way before the horse.

In any event, I hope the lawyers at the GAB are spending too much time on this issue. There are far more important things to worry about.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Meet Oshkosh's Next Minor Celebrity: "Front-Row Amy"

If you're having a wonderful time watching the Brewers run through the National League like a proverbial hot knife through butter, then you've probably seen the attractive lass in the front row of home games who is now on the verge of becoming a minor in-state sex symbol. Take it away, Deadspin:
This seemingly attractive Brewers fan in the yellow shirt looks to have season tickets first row just to the left of home plate. The cast of characters around her is always changing which makes it look like she goes by herself. She usually can been seen in a tube or tank top and also appears to keep score during the game. With Brewers poised to make the post season it's very possible she could be front and center during prime time in October. Is that enough to call upon the I-Team to discover more about this lonely comely Brewers lass?
Good question! As the post goes on to explain "Front Row Amy" is apparently from Oshkosh and makes it to about half of the Brew Crew's home games a season.

So if you happen to know anything about this budding star -- maybe she's a co-worker, old college/high school friend, rehab accountabil-a-buddy -- let us know in the comments section. 

And let us be the first to say that Front Row Amy is a vast improvement on House Boat Guy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Move Along Now -- There's Nothing to See Here

Well, this doesn't sound suspicious at at:
Tom Nardelli abruptly quit his state job with Gov. Scott Walker in late July, pulling the plug on his $90,000-a-year position just days after accepting the post.

That ended more than 3½ years Nardelli put in with Walker, including three years as his chief of staff when Walker was Milwaukee County executive. Nardelli was alderman for a northwest side city district for 18 years until he retired from that job in 2004.

Nardelli said Tuesday he resigned as administrator for the state Division of Environmental and Regulatory Services because he decided it would be unfair to keep the job knowing he planned to resign soon anyway.

"I was toying with leaving at the end of September," he said. He picked that exit date because it was the 100th anniversary of another state division Nardelli led - Safety and Buildings. He held that job for the first six months of Walker's tenure as governor.
You've got to be fucking kidding me. The 100th anniversary of the Safety and Buildings division? That's like saying he's waiting for Taurus to enter the fifth house of Saturn -- after all, there's nothing like a henchman for a small government Republican celebrating the birth of a regulatory agency.

But after what essentially amounts to Nardelli's astronological mumbo-jumbo, the JS digs a little deeper:
Shortly after accepting his last appointment July 18, "I began to have misgivings about my decision," Nardelli wrote in a July 21 resignation letter to Dave Ross, who heads the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. Nardelli said in the letter it wouldn't be fair to him or the Division of Environmental and Regulatory Services "for me to assume this assignment for only a couple of months."

In an interview, Nardelli said "other little things" related to the internal operations of his former state agency also led to his resignation. He declined to say what those were.
For a guy who's been in public life for over two decades, you'd think Nardelli would know that he's just supposed to say that he wants to spend more time with his family. But no, he instead he suggests that there were circumstances that gave him "misgivings" and that the specifics therein aren't something he wants to discuss publicly.

I sincerely doubt we've heard the last of Nardelli.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recall Lessons

The Recess Supervisor has five post recall take-away points that are worth looking at, all of which are worth discussing.
1. You can't beat something with nothing. The first thing the Democrats need is a probable candidate.
Couldn't agree more. This year's recall extravaganza has been relatively easy on the Dems messaging machine in so far as they were at liberty to treat Scott Walker like a pinata without worrying about negative attacks on their own tent pole candidate, but eventually they're going to need to have a figurehead to rally around.

With Feingold now out of the equation, the RS looks at Ron Kind (point #2) and David Obey (point #3) as potential candidates. Ron Kind does seem to be the logical choice for a front-runner. He's telegenic, has a carefully-crafted moderate image and can fund-raise in DC and through the Harvard alumni network, etc. We could go on, but the bigger issue that some Democrat needs to step up and become the face of Walker opposition. To date, no one has done so.

Here are three other nominees who could fill that role -- all three of which have enormous problems. The first is Jon Erpenbach, who ably took on the role of chief communicator for the "Wisconsin 14." In many ways he would seem to be perfect for the role, but it seems he will instead focus on running for Congress next year in Tammy Baldwin's soon to be vacated seat. The next is Tom Nelson, who is of course spying an opening to potentially take advantage of in Outagamie County. It's not the best place to launch a campaign or to organize a movement, but it does put some distance between him and the mess in Madison. Nelson, however, does not come without his own baggage.

Last, but not least, is Candidate X -- and I'm going to label he or she as such because, frankly, I'm not sure she or he exists.

Right now would be the perfect time for someone with few (if any) ties to Madison to take the initiative and run a-pox-on-both-your-houses populist campaign that doesn't fight Scott Walker per se, but goes after "business as usual in Madison as it is conducted by the Walker administration." This candidate would be free of an of Madison's taint and could credibly say that they don't bring the partisan baggage to the Governor's mansion of a decade of political knife-fighting, that they could world with both sides of the aisle, because they weren't around when both sides did everything they could to dissolve their working relationship. This person would be a business-owner or local office-holder (a mayor or county executive) who has the resources or savvy to become an opposition.

Several people come to mind who could potentially become Candidate X, but in each case they have the resources, but lack the willingness (or vice versa). So, as I said early, I'm not sure that this person exists, which is too bad, because the only person with the ability to tell both parties to shut up and act like adults is the Governor, and the current Governor can not and will not do so.

The last two point the RS makes are more debatable. Here's #4:
If the Democrats recall Scott Walker but lose the election, it is a virtual certainty that they will lose again in 2014. At some point - if it hasn't already begun - Democrats will lose support in the middle among people who are tired of them forcing voters into a perpetual campaign. For as much as Democrats think average people dislike Scott Walker, I assure you they dislike the commercials, the IE robocalls during dinner, the door knocking by out-of-state volunteers, and the junk in their mailboxes way more. 
I'm not convinced this is true. Remember, there will be at least two whole years between the latest Walker recall effort and his next re-election bid, during which there won't be as anywhere near as much electioneering as we've seen in the last 8 months. That's an eternity.

Also, there's not a whole lot of good news waiting for Walker on the other end of the defeating a recall. According to the state's latest jobs figures, Walker will fall about 50,000 jobs short of his goal of 250,000 jobs in his first term. Most economists do not have rosy outlook for the next few years. It's entirely possibly we could be in the depths of another recession by November 2012 and the wave of populist anger that Walker rode to power might sweep him out to sea.

Let's continue to say that Walker does survive a recall. Throughout his career Walker has never demonstrated an ability to work cooperatively with the opposition. In 2012, the WisGOP may have to defend, in one or another, as many as 17 state senate seats. There's a good chance that the Dems will reclaim that part of the legislature. If that happens, the budget negotiations the following year will be catastrophic. Democrats will have no motivation for passing a budget that doesn't throw them enough of a bone that leaves Walker supporters grumbling. If that doesn't happen there will be work stoppages, lay-offs, furloughs, thousands of voters inconvenienced. The sloppiness of Jim Doyle's final budget was one of the last straws that broke his administration -- don't be surprised if the same illness ends Walker's.

That being said, I will completely contradict myself regarding this very point at the end of this post. 

Then there's the RS's last point:
Don't underestimate the wishes of Obama's political team. In all likelihood, after all the signature counting, challenging, and assorted lawyering up, a gubernatorial recall ends up on a November ballot. That race will likely dominate the presidential election in terms of interest. The question for Team Obama is whether that helps him or hurts him in Wisconsin. If their determination is that it hurts Obama, or is a wild card with which they don't want to risk dealing, there could be pressure on DPW and other left-leaning interest groups to let it go and move on. 
That's a pretty bold prediction, one that assumes, oddly enough, that the WisDems cand find a credible candidate to take on Walker and the GOP can find an candidate that will be able to take on Obama (Mitt Romney, who we think will win the nomination after a ten car pile up at the finish line, won't cut it).

Then there's the highly possible Perfect Storm Scenario: Paul Ryan is on the national GOP ticket. What that does to a November gubernatorial recall race in Wisconsin is anyone's guess, but suffice it to say that both races will be fubar in Wisconsin. We'll know the answer in about 54 weeks.

Last is something that I haven't seen a single commentator or blogger or pundit or belligerent radio douche mention as one of the real, big picture take-aways from the recalls. It's a point that tends to get brushed aside as too obvious to mention:
Wisconsin voters like incumbents.
I mean we really like incumbents. The two recall races the did result in successful turnovers were both under extraordinary circumstances. This should be an important lesson to the folks who will eventually run the Recall Walker effort: they need to convince voters that the recall is necessary before running against Walker. If the recall occurs in November they might get away with skipping this step by bundling it up together with the normal election cycle, but this isn't a state that has a recent history of deposing holders of important offices shortly after their initial elections. Dave Obey was in office for 40 years. Tommy Thompson was governor for like 14 years. Tom Petri (remember him?), 30+ years. Russ Feingold managed to hang on for 18 years. Herb Kohl is up to 25, I think. Scott Walker has an enormous "natural" advantage as the incumbent and there really isn't an easy answer for how to overcome that.

There have been some absolutely horrible governors that have held office in the last 100 years, or since the recall became an option. The two governors that were successfully recalled were actually in their 5th years in office. That bodes well for Scott Walker. Voters prefer to wait for their elected officials' contract to expire before trying to bounce them. I don't think Recall Walker will have much trouble getting the requisite signatures to force an election, buut they are going to have a very difficult time getting enough votes and the polls.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kim Simac's Theological Postmortem of her own Campaign

Check out Kim Simac's Northwoods Patriots site today and you'll find an amazing post by a "anonymous" submitter whose writing style coincidentally resembles Simac's own.

Then, when you're done, please read Abe Sauer's look at the Tea Party after two years on the trail.

That will be all.

MORE: Evidently, that will not be all. PPP has an early GOP presidential primary poll in the field and the two biggest winners are the two candidates who wear their religiosity on their sleeves. We should all sit down and have a nice long talk about this phenomenon sometime soon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rick Perry's Welcome Party

Has a presidential candidate ever walked headlong into an opposition research buzzsaw upon announcing his candidacy like Rick Perry has?

Perry made his announcement Saturday afternoon after weeks of telegraphing his intentions and in the last 72 hours there's been a torrent of research drops since. There's Perry and
Did I miss anything? Oh yeah,
Usually candidates get a few days of goodwill after their announcements, but that didn't happen with Perry. A lot of that probably has to do with Perry's late entry into the race and the fact that most people saw him entering months ago, but has their ever been anyone who had this much thrown at him all at once?

Obviously, this isn't going to be the end of it. There's more out there, not including the gaffes Perry has yet to make.

Perry is, as his native Texans have been known to say, all hat and no cattle. Sure, his Texas alpha male macho schtick might play south of the Red River, but it gets really old really quickly north of it.

MORE: Jesus, I just glanced at Memeorandum and found two more things Perry must contend with:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Iowa Photo Ops

In honor of Michelle Bachman guzzling a deep fried kielbasa, here are two other unfortunate GOP photo op gone awry in Iowa. Here's Rick Santorum:

And Newt Gingrich:
In case the print is too small, Newt's wearing a Pork apron.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Recall Reform in the Wake of the Caucus Scandal

The NW has an editorial out this week calling for recall reform:
Wisconsin is one of 18 states that permits recall elections of local or state officials. But the state constitution does not specify appropriate grounds for recalls. In past editorials we have argued that the recall of state legislators solely on the basis of a vote on a policy issue is an abuse of the law – an act of political mischief. The recall election is a tool that should be reserved for cases when immediate removal from office is necessary; not as a weapon to punish a legislator for a controversial vote. That is clearly what has happened in in Wisconsin.


While Wisconsin's constitution is silent on proscribed grounds for recalls, 12 states spell out in various degrees of specificity when an elected official can be recalled. We happen to like the language of Georgia's law.

"Act of malfeasance or misconduct while in office; violation of oath of office; failure to perform duties prescribed by law; willfully misused, converted, or misappropriated, without authority, public property or public funds entrusted to or associated with the elective office to which the official has been elected or appointed. Discretionary performance of a lawful act or a prescribed duty shall not constitute a ground for recall of an elected public official."
They're not alone. Rep Robin Vos is planning on introducing a bill that will change the recall process:
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, says he's drafting a constitutional amendment that would require future recall petitions to include a reason for recall related to the elected representative's official responsibilities.

Vos told WisPolitics this afternoon he's looking to pattern the amendment after other states that list specific reasons for recall, potentially including convictions for felonies or misdemeanors and ethics violations. 
And right there we run into a significant problem, one that Wisconsin has faced before and failed spectacularly to resolve. Convicting a state legislature of the kinds of wrong-doings in office that would qualify them to be recalled under Vos' proposal or a loose reading of the spirit of the Georgia law (even though it conspicuously lacks the word "conviction" in the text) is next to impossible in Wisconsin. The Caucus Scandal drove that point home quite nicely.

The kinds of offenses of office that would presumably make a legislator eligible for recall were exactly the kinds of things that were routine during the caucus era -- how many legislators paid a political price for their conduct? Almost none. In fact, both the Governor and a Supreme Court Justice were members of the Assembly just before the scandal broke. One of the staffers involved is now in charge of counting votes in Waukesha county. How many paid a legal price? No more than five elected officials.

I've noticed that the further one is from the Capitol building, the more likely the incident is to be forgotten. This is unfortunate since in many ways the origins of the division and partisanship so evident in the state these days can be found in the details of the scandal. One of those details was the fierce debate surrounding the jurisdictions where the legislators being prosecuted were to be tried. Republicans made the case that they could not get a fair trial in Dane county, while Democrats argued that being tried back in home counties with friendly district attorneys and juries was hardly appropriate, and vice versa.Who secures the convictions that would instigate a potential recall is something we have been arguing about in another context for a decade now with no resolution.

Let me be clear about this: the primary reasons for the division in Wisconsin are likely due to a series of economic and demographic changes that have occurred over the last few decades, but this division is exasperated by the fact that we send our elected officials into an environment in Madison that simply has not resolved the largest political scandal in the state's history in any way that can be called adequate.

So far as I can find, there's never even been an official report or investigation into the length and depth of the caucus abuses, which could have stretched back a generation. There certainly isn't one available online. This says a lot about how serious the Wisconsin legal system is about keeping legislative accountability. Short of devising a separate court system specifically designed for state legislators accusing of misconduct in office, there's really no incentive for legislators to draw the blueprints for the gallows they may hang themselves on in the future.

The strange sense that the recall law currently makes is that it holds the actions of an elected official in the hands of the very people that elected he or she. This is essentially what happened to Gary George, whose corruption caused him to be recalled in 2003 prior to being convicted of misconduct. This brings up a fundamental flaw in Vos' proposal. Once a legislator is convicted of an abuse of office he goes to jail. He cannot physically be present to carry out his duties and would likely be expelled from the body. Once convictions are handed out recalls become unnecessarily complicated tools for executing an obvious course of action.

The problem is, that sometimes, in fact far more often than not, recalls are about taking less than obvious courses of action. Should George Petak have been recalled over the public financing of Miller Park in 1996? There were certainly some people who suspected him of getting some sort of deal for changing his no vote to a yes and used that false suspicion to rally support around his ouster. What about Jeff Wood and his three DUIs in as many months while in office? The DUIs had nothing to do with corruption, but were hardly becoming a state legislator -- is that enough to warrant a recall? Not according to his own constituents, who didn't lift a finger against him. What about Recall Jim Holprin version 1.0? The idea of recalling someone over a disagreement over Indian spearfishing rights today seems down right quaint, but at the time there were literally fist-fights erupting over the issue.

One of the great mysteries that shrouds any democracy is why do "the people" do what they do? There isn't a soul alive who can tell me adequately why Randy Hopper was recalled on Tuesday. Was it because of his support for Scott Walker? His personal issues? Did people like the other candidate better? Did they not like the shirt he wore the day he knocked on their door? Is it a combination of these and other factors? If so, what were the proportions and rank of importance? Who knows? In a democracy the reasons why "the people" vote one way or another are really academic in contrast to their ability to make the decision. Elected officials and bureaucrats should never have to ask "the people" to justify why they vote the way they do.

Which brings us back to the recalls themselves. Lost in the unfortunate race to provide instant analysis was the fact that there were efforts to recall 16 state senators these last few months: 8 Republicans and 8 Democrats. The GOP could only manage to find the required signatures to trigger elections in 3 races, and they are not likely to win any of those. The Dems triggered 6 races and won two. So in the largest and most chaotic and wildest and most enthusiastic and best publicized recall extravaganza the nation has ever seen, the success rate was a mere 12.5% and at a financial cost several multiples above normal cycle races. Those are long shot odds, at best. Even during the GOP Wave of 2010 Dems still won 40% of competitive races for the Senate.

Most strategists are going to look at those numbers and say it's just not worth it, that large scale recall efforts to unseat multiple legislators at the same time are neither cost effective nor practical**.  There might be a recall in a swing district here or there in the years that follow, but those will probably fall out of favor once they too prove to be elusive.

The premise of both Vos' and the NW's position is that it's too easy to recall an office holder. It's not. Recalls maybe used for reasons specific individuals disagree with, but "the people" really don't need to have a reason to recall someone -- this is sort of the divine right of voters in any democracy.

**Wisconsin Dems are not going to arrive at this conclusion next year. Remember, they only need to flip one of ten seats, they'll have Scott Walker at the top of the ticket (and even if they fail to unseat him, turnout could knock-out undercards), and the DPW could find keeping heat on Walker worth the cost in the long run.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Obligatory Post-Recall Winners and Loser Post

  • You
That's right, you. You have now endured an election season that has lasted over 16 months and there's no end in sight. Sure, you think it's all over, but it's really just beginning. Don't expect it to end until November 2012.

In fact, don't expect it to end ever. One of the worst possible consequences the recall effort has always been that it would establish the kind of precedent, that recalls would become the new normal. Given how expensive, time consuming and complicated the recalls have turned out to be, that's probably not going happen, but don't plan on recalls being as rare as they have been, especially in competitive districts. You'll just have to put up with it.
  • Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald can now rely on two less votes, must now contend with a unified opposition that has no motivation to work with him. Last week he was the unquestionable most powerful person in the state Senate. Today that job belongs to Dale Shultz.
  • We Are Wisconsin
The most frequent complaint I heard about WAW was that they were unorganized, which made all the hype about the union's turn-out operations a little ridiculous. Their advertising was underwhelming. Much of this can be attributed to the growing pains every organization suffers, but every now and then I got the feeling that with so many groups trying to pool their resources into one pot that there were too many chefs in the kitchen.
  • Luther Olsen
Take this for what it's worth, but there's a strain of thought that Luther Olsen did himself few favors despite fending off his own recall. Having never faced any Democratic competition before, Olsen looked lost at times and very beatable. His opponent was flawed, and those flaws were the subject of relentless third party advertising, but it's not hard to see see Olsen getting bounced as a down-ticket race during a Presidential election with massive turnout. Olsen's not off to a good start. Moments after winning Tuesday he said "This was a referendum on Scott Walker," something that, if uttered a week earlier, would have been grist for an attack ad. I don't know what the dynamics of his new district look like, but if there's a list of potential pick-ups for the Dems next year Olsen's should be near the top.

There's a strain of thought that suggests Olsen, along with Shultz and Cowles, will form a moderate voting block in the Senate. Don't bet on it. Olsen was the recipient of generous third party support and you can bet your sweet ass they'll be back to extract a pound of flesh when the time comes.
  • Democratic Expectations
I understand there's a fine line between trying to motivate the troops and realistically assessing a given challenge, but it'd really be nice for the Democratic Party to someday grasp just how unmotivating it is to hear that there is a good chance of being competitive in six races when the reality is much less rosy.
  • The GOP Bench
Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: Randy Hopper was being groomed for higher office. Talk up here in the 6th CD was that Hopper was heir to Tom Petri's seat in Congress. Christian Schneider says others had gubernatorial aspirations for him. There's a reason he was given a seat on the Joint Finance Committee only half way through his first term in office. He was a ferocious retail campaigner and slick operator with a ton of potential. Hopper was actually the least expendable candidate being recalled, the others were on the downhill runs of their legislative careers. Not Hopper. He was clearly a long term investment for the GOP, but one that didn't pan out. 
  • The 10 GOP Senators not named Dale Schultz who are eligible to be recalled next year
Looks like the Walker Recall is still going ahead as planned and now each of this cats represents a chance to kill two birds with one stone and flip the Senate. If Dan Kapanke is the model for bumping off a sitting official through a recall then it would stand to reason that GOP Senators in districts that flirt with Dems could be vulnerable, so keep an eye on Frank Lasee (who also has a series of personal issues), Van Wanggaard, Terry Moulton and Pam Galloway -- all of whom were first elected to the Senate in 2010.
  • Organizing for America, Various Tea Party Groups and other "Grassroots" Organizations
Totally absent from the fight. The only groups I saw lift a finger were third party special interest groups or astroturf outfits like the Club for Growth and AFP.
  • Scott Walker
The Gov. just had $10-15 million in negative advertising running against him during the last 4 weeks with nary a response. That's going to take a toll in his approval ratings, which are already trending downward.

Despite not flipping the Senate, Dems don't seem any less eager to recall Walker. In fact, not flipping the Senate may actually help their cause. They can now continue to make the case that Walker needs to go because there isn't a legislative check on his agenda, whereas that might have been a harder sell with the Senate under their control.

It's a safe bet that anyone who signed the recall petition against one of the GOP senators will also sign one for Walker. That means Dems have already found between 25% and 33% of the signatures required to start a recall without having set foot in Dane County and most of Milwaukee.

  • Scott Walker
A flipped Senate would have marked the end of his administration, full stop. As it stands now, Walker has bought himself that most precious of commodities: time. He now has a brief window to let tempers cool and refurbish his own image. How well he's able to do this will determine just how long his tenure in the governor's mansion is.

While there serious policy issues at play in the recall, let's not pretend that this wasn't primarily an exercise in partisan silliness. This has helped distract the state from the fact that the economy still sucks and Walker's policies haven't really done anything to make it better.
  • Dale Schultz
The most popular man in Madison until further notice.
  • Wisconsin Family Action
Ran the hardest-hitting (pun intended) ad of the recalls, one that probably played a big roll in demonizing Fred Clark enough to give Luther Olsen the win, once again proving that there's no point in running for office when you can wield just as much power running a special interest without any of the responsibility.

(One of these days, I'd love to see someone do some campaign finance law beta testing by running horrifying negative ads against lobbyists. Something like: Call Julianne Appling today and ask her why she likes having sex with goats before sacrificing them to Satan in an orgy of blood. Or: Call Barbara Lyons and ask her why she wants to give your 16 year old daughter herpes. It wouldn't even have to be during election season. End rant.)
  • Pollsters and Political Scientists
It was rather refreshing to have so many people who usually claim to have their fingers on the pulse of the American electorate openly come out and say, "Yeah, we just don't have any clue what's happening." For their honestly, they now have a quirky anomaly to study and compare things to in the future.


As the immortal Nuke LaLoosh once said "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Not much changed for the folks below.
  • The Democratic Party of Wisconsin
There are now two more Democrats in the Senate then there were last week. No, they did not get the all-important third seat, but Scott Walker's agenda will no longer sail through the legislature as it previously did. This in and of itself is actually a huge win, but is balanced out by outsized expectation, largely of their own creation, that they couldn't reach.
  • The Republican Party of Wisconsin
They are still in control of all three branches of the state government, but this is now the second near miss in just a few months. Eventually, the Dems might actually figure out how to land the haymaker.
  • Unions
They are right where they were a week ago. Everyone knows that restoring collective bargaining rights to state employees will only happen once Walker is out of office. The longer this takes, the less likely it is to happen, so in this respect they missed a chance to cripple Walker's agenda. But this wasn't their only chance to take a shot at the king. Even though the haven't won a legislative victory yet, they have very successfully driven the conversation since February, something the tea party needed two years to accomplish.

There's also the almost entirely unmentioned prospect that this round of recalls was little more than a dry run for a larger, more intense rounds of recalls next year. If those do happen, the unions will be able to build on the lessons they learned this time around.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

And for Something Completely Different

This might be my most favorite paragraph ever written. No context needed:
Listen, apart from the horror that their use represents, warplanes are pretty cool. They look neat, and when you're a kid, you hold models of them and move around the house and go "woooooooshhhhh" and "pew pew pew" and shoot dad in the face because even at that age you recognize the necessity to eclipse him evolutionarily and Oedipally and also because his aggression cannot stand
Of course, if you'd like a little context with your funny, you can always go here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's the Worst Possible Outcome of Tuesday's Recall Elections?

Simple: two seats flip to the Dems with a third race so tight that a recount is required.

Right now there are three races that are statistically too close to call. One of those races features a rematch that resulted in a, drumroll please ... prolonged recount.

In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that at least one race tomorrow does end up in a recount (whether or not it's the all important third piece of the puzzle is another matter). This election season has now gone on for roughly 16 months now and is likely to kick back into gear in January. Why should Wisconsin suffer through three months with nothing to bitch about?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Q: What do Milwaukee and London have in Common?

A: Roving packs of unruly teenagers.

I'm going to guess that since black unemployment in Milwaukee is at least 34% and higher than 40% for black teenagers (nationally) that punk kids with a lot of time to kill and not much sense of responsibility are likely to get into trouble, especially in large packs of peers in the same boat.

But don't let me stop massive assholes from calling the incident a "race riot."

Hopper Behaving Badly

There's absolutely no context to this incident and I have no idea who's behind the camera or what precipitated the comment. Regardless, if David Prosser has taught us anything it's
1.) Be on your best behavior inside the Capitol Building.

2.) Don't be a dick in front of people with rolling cameras.
Then again, if you need to reminded not to cheat on your wife with 20-something staffers then I suppose  simpler lessons will also be lost on you.

Recall Mania

I probably shouldn't be surprised given the NW's strong words for Randy Hopper last week, but the paper came out and endorsed Jessica King today. Anyone who thinks these recalls are anything other than a referendum on Scott Walker would do well to read it:

Gov. Scott Walker ran on a platform of asking government workers to pay a greater share of their health and pension costs. He told the editorial board in late October he would accomplish that through tough negotiations with union leaders, contrasting concessions with the need for large-scale layoffs of workers without cost savings. We think asking workers to contribute a greater share of costs was fair and justified, but disagree with the steps the governor took in February. In fact, when we endorsed Walker, we cautioned: "Walker's ultimate success as governor will depend greatly on his ability to work constructively with state employees. He must not fall into the trap of demonizing state workers."

Just days before Walker introduced his budget repair bill, we warned the governor about exercising the "nuclear option" of outlawing collective bargaining. The governor took that step without holding a single negotiating session with unions. Furthermore, the rollbacks enacted by the Legislature amid the drumbeat of protesters contain provisions that seriously undermine the ability of unions to collect dues and remain certified. Those steps, like others, were not taken to balance a budget, but to cripple the political opposition and guarantee Republican majorities for a generation. Consider what's happened since the recall drives were initiated, including:

» Drafting legislative and Congressional re-districting maps in secret that favor Republicans and passing the new boundaries and procedures to change the process in less than two weeks with a single public hearing.

» Rolling out a statewide expansion of private and religious school vouchers following a speech by Walker to a special interest group in Washington.

» Eroding local control of local governments and school districts with blanket restrictions on property tax rates.

» Passing a budget that gradually reduces taxes on agriculture and manufacturing profits to near zero while increasing taxes on the poor and seniors through the Earned Income and Homestead taxes.

» An ill-advised plan to break up the UW System and later in the state budget cutting $800 million from K-12 education, reducing aid to the Technical College System and maintaining large tuition increases at public university campuses across the state.

» Restricting women's access to health care and capping enrollments in BadgerCare, a health insurance program for the poor.

These are all measures championed by Hopper, who sat on the powerful Joint Finance Committee. Hopper's seat is one of three needed to switch to give Democrats a majority in the senate.
So far as I've been able to look, which admittedly hasn't been all that far, the NW is the first paper to wade into recall endorsements. They explain their rationale for doing so here. I thought most papers would let the recalls slide and still don't plan on hearing much from any others before Tuesday.

It's hard to say what's going to happen on Tuesday, especially up here in the 18th district. The last poll had King up by about 10 points (but take that with a grain of salt, since I sure as hell have never seen the polling company's product vetted publicly before). There were canvassers for We Are Wisconsin criss-crossing the city all weekend (they were hard to miss in the bright red shirts), but I'm reticent to put too much faith in an organization that's basically a ad hoc committee in charge of spending a ton of cash donated in a collective fit of pique. On the other hand, if this election is to be decided by Christian Schneider-penned lap dances at NRO, then King is done for (though Schnieder's latest still doesn't hold a candle to this piece of hagiographic dreck).

Aside from yard signs, I haven't seen much activity from Hopper in Oshkosh. I actually did see him at Waterfest several weeks ago. He was accompanied by a pudgy dude in what may have been penny loafers and khaki shorts who was thumbing through a Blackberry incessantly. I assume that was his campaign manager.

Then there's the mail ... all that fucking mail. It genuinely feels like I've gotten more campaign literature in the mail this time around than any other election season I can remember -- including presidential ones. Now that might be something of an exaggeration, but there's just a ton of it. And it's all really big -- like 10" x 14" -- and glossy and colorful and expensive looking. I don't have the pathological loathing for negative mailings that most people do, but even I have my limits.

The biggest surprise, however, has been the utter lack of TV ads for this race. I haven't seen one from either campaign and only a smattering of anti-Hopper ads from third parties, and nothing in several weeks (the Olsen/Clark race is another story). Ditto radio. It'd be nice to think that it will all be over on Wednesday, but the unfortunate state of affairs is that it will just be beginning.

So gird your loins and get ready for a long night.

The "New Look" Packers

This could be interesting [NYT]:
If you thought the N.F.L. lockout was tough as a fan, imagine being a head coach.

These men are accustomed to 20-hour workdays and sleeping in cots at team headquarters. They are not the kind of people who kick back with Angry Birds for an hour. Down time is not something they handle well.

For at least one coach, idle hands were the devil’s playbook. Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy added 47 new “schematic concepts” to his playbook during the lockout. Anyone who watched the Packers use everything from empty backfields to T-formations last year must wonder how many more schematic concepts there can possibly be: all that’s left is for receivers to stand on one another’s shoulders and fullbacks to dangle from trapezes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

From the Texas Tribune:
Organizers of The Response were thrilled to see more than 30,000 people join them at Reliant Stadium on Saturday, but the event billed as a day for praying and fasting made some concessions for those who were too hungry to get through the seven-hour revival.

Event spokesman Eric Bearse said the stadium required that concession stands remain open, so speakers told the audience early on they were welcome to eat between worshiping. Many took the advice to heart: Long lines of people waited for the chance to buy nachos, hot dogs, smoothies and beverages in the stadium's mezzanine.

Walt Landers of San Angelo was finishing up a hot dog when The Texas Tribune approached him for an interview. He said he made a last-minute decision to drive to Houston from West Texas this morning with no idea the event included fasting.

Landers said he skipped lunch, but by 4 p.m. he couldn't resist. He was starving. 
"That's the agreement I made with God earlier. I have fasted plenty of times in the past in exercising my faith," he said, adding that he believes in "giving up something up for God, so you can pursue him in a stronger way."
Photo via Dave Weigel.

See Matthew 6:16-18.

"A kids’ area was set up in the Jose Cuervo Cantina on the stadium’s south side."

Cuervo and kids: a winning combination.

"I really highly doubt the lieutenant governor is going to a bar where they don't wear pants on a night when they don't wear pants."

Pretty awesome.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Annals of Shitty Timing

Couldn't this kind of news waited, oh I don't know, like another week:

A state worker with ties to Senator Randy Hopper who received a 35% salary boost when hired in February is leaving her position.


Sources have identified Cass as a woman in a relationship with Senator Hopper (R-Fond du Lac).   Hopper,  45 ,  is involved in a pending divorce.   Earlier this year,  Hopper’s estranged wife stated Hopper lived primarily in Madison and was involved in an affair with a unnamed woman of Cass’ age.     Hopper bought a home near Fond du Lac last month,  after previously living in an apartment on the property of one of the employees of a radio station Hopper owns,  to satisfy senate district residency requirements.


The Islamophobic Hard Right Really aren't any Different from 9/11 Truthers

This is a rather refreshing slice of sanity from Chris Christie:
At this juncture, it may be more efficient to highlight which interactions between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the media are not newsworthy. The Republican’s appointment of Muslim-American Sohail Mohammed to a state bench this week ruffled some feathers among some who fear the threat of Sharia Law, but when asked about those concerns, Gov. Christie made clear he had no patience for such “ignorance,” calling the complaints “crap.”

“Ignorance is behind the criticism of Sohail Mohammed,” he told a reporter asking about the complaints that he may be inadequate to be a judge because he defended Muslim Americans who were wrongly arrested post-9/11. “He is an extraordinary American who is an outstanding lawyer and played an integral role in the post-September 11th period in building bridges between the Muslim American community in this state and law enforcement,” Gov. Christie argued, adding that he was “disgusted, candidly, by some of the questions he was asked… at the Senate judiciary committee.”

But it was a follow-up question on the fear of Sharia Law that set the governor off. “Sharia Law has nothing to do with this at all, it’s crazy!” he cried. “The guy is an American citizen!” He concluded that the “Sharia Law business is just crap… and I’m tried of dealing with the crazies,” adding with disgust and frustration that “it’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background.”
(For those on the left who fail to see the appeal of Christie's bullying tactics, you have to admit it's kind of nice to see when he's making your point for you. That, and he is governor of a state known for its Darwinian principles of social management.)

Unfortunately, Christie's views are apparently the minority view in the GOP. Do check out Eli Lake's extended assessment of the current crop of GOP presidential contender's foreign policy philosophies. Among the more outlandish segments of the piece is this nugget from supposedly serious candidate Tim Pawlenty's camp:
“[Michelle Bachmann] really gets it that there is a stealth jihad by radical Islamists in this country,” says Sarah Stern, the president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Stern recalls a conversation that she had with Bachmann in the congresswoman’s office in October 2010. Stern says Bachmann was talking about “the depth of radical Islam in Minneapolis.” (Minneapolis was the site of a longtime operation by Al Shabab to recruit Somali-Americans to fight in Somalia.) “She actually said, ‘Right here, coming to a theater near you, we have stealth jihad in Minnesota,’” Stern told me approvingly.


BACHMANN’S VIEWS on sharia are apparently popular enough that Tim Pawlenty—who planned to run as the conservative alternative to Romney, but has found himself eclipsed by Bachmann—has felt the need to nod in the same direction. In March, Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Pawlenty campaign, told Politico that the governor personally shut down a sharia-compliant finance program in Minnesota, because “the United States should be governed by the U.S. Constitution, not religious laws.” And, when I asked Conant whether his candidate believed there was a threat to the Constitution from sharia, he said yes. “He does think there is a threat from sharia or any religious law or international law of undermining U.S. law and the Constitution,” Conant explained. “The threat is the courts would look to sharia law instead of the U.S. Constitution, and the governor would vigorously oppose this.”
I have to give Conant, an ex-editor of the Badger Herald, a lot of credit for being able to utter such remarkable bullshit with a straight face, especially given just how much this nonsense is just how couched it is in race-baiting and xenophobia. I understand this is standard operating procedure to bring base voters to the polls by creating boogie men -- and both parties do it -- but this particular bout of chest-pounding is particularly strange given Bachmann and Pawlenty's Minnesotan origins.

It's fairly well-known by now that the Twin Cities have a large Somali ex-pat population. The numbers aren't necessarily huge, but the community tends to stick out in a largely homogenous state. Lake omits this detail in his story. It should come as little surprise that an organization in the homeland, especially a bad one, looks to recruit and fund-raise from ex-pats abroad--the IRA, after all, was raising money in New York and Boston up through the 1990s. Ipso facto, according to Pawlenty and Bachmann, sharia law is slowly taking over the North Star State.

Lake also reminds his readers of the Frank Gaffney, the Islamophobic nutcase whose rantings are quickly becoming more and more unhinged with each passing day. As Luck would have it, Gaffney is currently espousing the utterly unsubstantiated theory that the manifesto of the murder responsible for the recent mass killings in Norway was planted as part of a "false flag operation" by the Muslim Brotherhood.

I bring this up because the phrase "false flag operation" should trigger a few alarms among people, like myself, who have a morbid curiosity with how conspiracy theories evolve and travel among the 9/11 Truther lunatic jetset. "False flag operations" are the conspiracy theorists' equant -- the abstract construction Ptolemy used to prove the universe revolved around the Earth. It should seem a little odd that two camps with diametrically opposed views are now adopting the same tactics to advance their respective points.

Or should it? Since Osama bin Laden was killed earlier this year it seems like the folks who have spent the last decade screaming like Cassandra of the imminent takeover of Islam now seem wrong. But when crazy people are given evidence that demonstrates the wrongness of their convictions, they don't change their minds: they double down. The next step is usually to apply their twisted worldviews to other areas and thus construct entirely new conspiracy theories from whole cloth, something noted Islamophobe Pamela Geller did three years ago when she gave mankind the Barack Obama is really Malcolm X's bastard son theory. Pretty soon Geller, Gaffney, Robert Spencer et al. will have constructed an entire alternative world history filled to the gills with enough conspiratorial nonsense to make even Moulder and Scully roll their eyes.

When we went looking for the reasons why Kevin Barrett believed all the crazy shit he believed we found that the common denominator underlying each pillar of his worldview was antisemitism. Somehow or in some way, whatever point Barrett tries to advance all comes back to the Jews. For the Islamophobic right, it's the same story, only with Muslims and couched in the delicate language of a think tank white paper:
Ever since 2003, when the thrust of the War On Terror stopped being the defeat of America’s enemies and decisively shifted to nation-building, we have insisted—against history, law, language, and logic—that Islamic culture is perfectly compatible with and hospitable to Western-style democracy,” McCarthy has written. “It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.
That extract from the Lake piece was written by Andrew McCarthy. It appeared in National Review earlier this year and its the very sentiment Chris Christie denounced at the very beginning of the post. At best, McCarthy's statement is a willfully negligent of the history of Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan (not the best example, I know, but one whose variables do more to explain the why democracy has trouble taking root in the Middle East as opposed to other parts of the Muslim world) and, the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia (see also Bangladesh, Mali and Senegal). At worst, it's a throwback to the kind of racist justifications used in defense of colonialism during the 19th century.

And it's an opinion pervasive among just about every GOP presidential candidate, except Mitt Romney, who perhaps better than any of his colleagues understands what it's like to be a religious minority whose faith is poorly understood by the rest of the country. One of the most important things George Bush did during his entire presidency was reach out to the Muslim community immediately -- and I mean without hesitation -- after 9/11 and then continue to make the distinction between radical and mainstream Islam. There's no question that prevented a deluge of suspicion and recriminations in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. I seriously doubt that most of the GOP candidates running for President would have done the same thing.

Then again, maybe this burgeoning pillar of GOP foreign policy is a reaction to Bush's efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East, a way for the party to collectively wipe it's hands clean of the failure. It's the exact opposite of neocon theory that democracy would quickly flower in Iraq, all it needed was a push. But the current crop of GOP White House hopefuls seem to have taken away a stunningly simplistic lesson from the misadventure in Iraq: Islam and democracy don't mix. It's only a matter of time before we start getting a revisionist account about how the Iraq invasion would have worked if not for the stubborn Muslims who just couldn't seem to grasp the concept of freedom.

Again, I don't know if this is just an issue the GOP uses to whip the base up into a frenzy or if they actually believe this drivel (or even if there a difference between the two anymore), but if notion that democracy and Islam are incomparable is as influential an idea as Lake claims, it will not be long before wild-eyed nutters will be sounding like Kevin Barrett, only they'll be doing it from behind a lectern during a presidential debate. Maybe only then this idea will finally sound as stupid to their ears as it should.

“It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

From Politico:
Veterans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s unsuccessful 2010 primary challenge to [Gov. Rick] Perry recalled being stunned at the way attacks bounced off the governor in a strongly conservative state gripped by tea party fever. Multiple former Hutchison advisers recalled asking a focus group about the charge that Perry may have presided over the execution of an innocent man — Cameron Todd Willingham — and got this response from a primary voter: “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”
 If you aren't familiar with the mind-blowing details of the Willingham case, best learn yourself here.