Thursday, December 30, 2010

Of Course It Is!

Did you know that Florida's official state song is called -- I shit you not -- "Old Folks at Home"?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Single Worst Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision I can Remember


The Legal Watchdog blog looks at a terrible decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in which it upheld an order for a 17-year-old to register as as sex offender, even though he committed no sex crime. The youth forced another 17-year-old to accompany him to collect a debt. This was enough to convict him of falsely imprisoning a minor, which the Wisconsin legislature has defined as a sex crime.

The details are absolutely infuriating.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scott Walker Pimps his Ride

No word on whether the new Yukon has spinning rims:

In campaigning to become Wisconsin's next governor, Scott Walker promised to usher in a new era of austerity in state government. But one of his first decisions suggests his determination to make the "haves" in state government more like the "have-nots" elsewhere stops at his own door — his own car door, to be precise.

Isthmus has learned that Walker plans to spend significantly more than his predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle, on his personal state vehicle.

According to Emily Winecke, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Division of Administration, which maintains the state's vehicle fleet, the state has signed a 60-day lease on a 2011 GMC Yukon XL for Walker's use, from the car rental company Enterprise.


"This vehicle," says Winecke, "was selected by the governor-elect's security detail so that all members of [his] family could travel together in one vehicle." She explains that the costs "include" a $1,596.50 monthly rental fee for up to 3,000 miles per month, plus 20 cents per mile beyond that.

[via LCT]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ignore Particulars. Complain about Process. Change the Subject.

Behold, Senator-elect Ron Johnson's foreign policy strategy:
Johnson told WisPolitics Tuesday he has the same concerns about the treaty that others are now expressing: that it ties the nation’s defense missile system to a reduction in nuclear arms.

The Senate voted 67-28 to advance the treaty.

“I’m concerned about anything in this lame-duck session that is just being rammed through without adequate debate, without proper hearings,” Johnson said.

While acknowledging the treaty has received a fair amount of hearings and debate, Johnson said he was concerned about other issues the Senate has taken up in the lame-duck session.

MORE: For more on why opposing the START treaty was a bone-headed idea from the beginning, here's Fred Kaplan.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blogging the Civil War

Merry Christmas, nerds!

The American Interest is blogging the Civil War by linking to daily "updates" from the archives of newspapers as they were published 150 years ago. For example: on the morning of December 29th, 2010 AI will feature several articles and op-eds that were published on December 29th, 1860 and so forth.

Very cool stuff. Very cool project.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Only High Speed Rail Can Save Conservatism (Seriously.)

[Here's an early holiday gift for James Rowen and John Michlig.]

The Brookings Inst. has yet another report detailing the impending death of the traditional American Suburb today.

There's a ton of socio-economic repercussions to the phenomenon and the Gawker summary does a very fine and succinct job at getting to the heart of the matter:

The smartest, most educated young suburbanites are fleeing for big cities. Naturally. Didn't you? They're leaving behind their parents, who make up that hefty chunk of soon-to-retire boomers. It was inevitable that the suburbs would become more racially integrated, albeit slowly; but economic integration is happening faster than many suburban residents would probably prefer, thanks in part to the real estate market collapse which left lots and lots of suburban cookie-cutter development dream homes available at prices far, far lower than their developers had initially hoped.

So while young, mostly white suburban kids race to the cities and price out the original residents there, many of those urban minorities may find the suburbs to be more inviting and economically viable. Gentrification and degentrification—demographic groups passing each other on the highway into the city, heading in opposite directions. While bright young things head for NYC, LA, Chicago, and San Francisco, the Sun Belt and its massive tracts of sprawl stand ready, willing and able to absorb the displaced, once-urban masses of the working class. It's as if, over the course of a generation, the stereotypical growing-up experiences of White Suburban Americans and Minority Urban Americans will totally trade places. The only difference being that now the cities will get the government money and attention they've always deserved, and the suburbs will slowly wilt into sprawling, neglected slums.

Now let's look at the long-term political ramifications for a second.

Suburbs have long been strongholds for conservative voters for obvious reasons, but where are these conservative voters going to flee to once their suburbs become more racially integrated and economically diverse? They're probably not going to rush back into the new urban areas, where costs of living and, yes, taxes will be higher... so, where does that leave them?

Let's look at an unlikely hypothetical, worst-case-scenario, wherein , say, 15 years from now Waukesha Co. has ceased to be the center of the state's conservative base. Where did the voters go? Here are five possibilities ... see if you can guess the common theme that unites them all.

1.) The Exurbs
Walworth, Jefferson and Dodge counties start to see a small growth in communities of Waukesha transplants that are now willing to trade in a 30-45 minute commute for a 60-75 minute drive as long as it means a quieter life away from the riffraff.

This has already started to happen in St. Croix, Polk and Pierce counties which are effectively exurbs of the Twin Cities.
2.) Lower population Suburban counties.
Washington county, we're looking at you. Slinger and West Bend will get larger and everyone will have a lot more friends in Allenton. Washington county is already fertile Republican territory but it's far less populated than the other collar counties around Milwaukee.
3.) "Unurban" cities like Fond du Lac, Appleton, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Wausau and, yes, Oshkosh.
I'm calling them "unurban" cities because even though they look like suburbs in many ways, the fact that they are not supported by a neighboring urban center dramatically changes the local culture, economy and politics. Fondy's a bit different because it's close enough to Milwaukee to justify the commute, but, by and large, it's still its own little place.
4.) Rural Wisconsin
I hope this is self-explanatory.
5.) Other States
Let's face it, the people who will be leaving will be old. It'll either be time to go off to that great retirement home in Boca or Scottsdale.
What do all of these have in common? Ideological diffusion. The demise of the suburbs basically creates a diaspora among the conservative community. Now, some might say, "That's great, now the message will reach new ears, etc." Except it doesn't really work like that. At the end of the day, conservatives simply become more spread out and elections quickly begin to reflect that phenomenon.

So what does all of this have to do with high speed rail? Conservatism needs suburbia to flourish. It's doesn't need academia or a media machine or conferences or all the sexy stuff that gets loudmouths on TV -- it needs an environment in which to ingrain itself into every aspect of life and suburbia is custom made for cultivating conservatism. It's no accident that the trajectory of the modern conservative movement follows a similar arc to that of the contemporary suburb. Once the suburb starts to become replaced by a slum, conservatism will begin its death throes.

That's where high speed rail comes in to play. HSR basically allows suburbanites the chance to live an urban life in terms of employment and recreation while building a home away from the bustle of the city. It allows the "smartest, most educated young suburbanites" to live in a place that is familiar to them while still pursuing ambitions that suburbs often don't allow. It's not uncommon for people to take a 30-60 minute El ride clear across Chicago for whatever reason and think nothing of it ... that's an urban convenience the suburbs need desperately in order to attract the kind of people who will be making the economy work in the 21st century.

I'm not saying that not having HSR will kill off the suburbs. An aging population, the housing bubble, long commutes, expensive gas and dozens of other things will do just fine, thank you -- but HSR can help save it by opening the suburbs up to a new market: young folks who want urban lives between 8 AM and 8 PM Monday through Friday, but don't want to pay for the cover charge for living in the city limits. As it currently stands, the hassle of living in the burbs far outweighs the hassle of living in the city and when suburbs continue to isolate themselves by declining mass transport services -- especially during rough economic times -- they create a recipe ripe for isolation and, eventually, ghettoization.

I'm sure actually conservatives will roll their eyes at this argument and go on about the intellectual merits of their philosophy (while at the same time preaching a gospel of anti-intellectualism, go figure), but the fact of the matter is that most voters chose how they vote based on their own personal life experiences, not how they rationalize the merits of one policy or another, and nothing creates conservative voters like suburban life. Killing the suburbs will essentially be killing off conservatism.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reince Priebus: Back-Stabber

I'm not going to pretend for a moment that I have any clue as to the machinations of internal GOP politics, but I do know a good knifing when I see one and Reince Priebus may have just committed one of the most flagrant backstabbings I've seen in a very long time.

Look back just two short years ago. When Michael Steele was elected chair of the GOP with Priebus as his manager, we here in Wisconsin were treated to gushing fluff pieces on how Steele and Priebus were the Republican ebony and ivory ready to bring the party back to glory. Here the MJS from February of 2009:
The two did not know each other well when Priebus endorsed Steele for RNC chairman last fall. But there was "an instantaneous click," said Steele, who said he saw Priebus as someone who shared an interest in modernizing the party and shared the experience of promoting Republicans in a state where Democrats had the upper hand.

Priebus ended up managing Steele's underdog campaign for the chairmanship.

It's easy to see why Priebus thought Michael Steele was such a potent political force. After all, this was the guy who thought it would be a great idea to have Mike Tyson be one of his surrogates on the campaign trail when he ran for the Senate.

(Amazingly enough, nothing about the photo above has been Photoshopped.)

By April of that year there were already questions about Steele's ability to manage party funds, but Priebus was out there shilling for his guy:

Randy Pullen, the RNC's elected treasurer, former RNC General Counsel David Norcross and three other former top RNC officers have presented Mr. Steele with a resolution, calling for a new set of checks and balances on the chairman's power to dole out money.

The powers include new controls on awarding contracts and spending money on outside legal and other services.

Mr. Steele could not be reached, and a spokesman for the RNC chairman declined to comment on the move.

The resolution prompted a top Steele supporter to issue a scathing attack against Mr. Pullen and his allies after they had asked Mr. Steele to support the "good governance" resolution at a special meeting of the full national committee set for next month. The party spent about $300 million in last year's elections.

"I urge you to reject this hostile attempt to embarrass and neuter the chairman of the RNC," Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in an e-mail to the 168-member national committee.

And that was just the beginning of a long sting of events for which Steel would gain his notoriety during which time Priebus was notably silent in his criticism of his boss while he retained the position of top party counsel and closest advisor to Steele.
And that was merely the beginning of a long string of gaffes that rapidly diminished the stature of both the chair and the RNC. Now Priebus is saying things like:
“I will run a tight ship at the RNC,” Priebus wrote. “I will keep expenses low. I will put in strong and serious controls. We will raise the necessary funds to make sure we are successful. We will work to regain the confidence of our donor base and I will personally call our major donors to ask them to rejoin our efforts at the RNC.”
But in a video message accompanying an e-mail Priebus sent to RNC members, the Wisconsin lawyer said: “I don’t believe we can win the presidency without a highly functional RNC, and unfortunately we don’t have that today.”
Which begs the question: Why didn't you do implement these policies when you had the chance as a member of the leadership of the party?

As I said earlier, I don't know a damn thing about Republican intramural skirmishes, but this is still pretty low. I don't expect much loyalty from politicians, but the I do think there is something to be said about the appearance of loyalty, and this act has none to mention.

Steele's been awful and a ham sandwich can likely do a better job running the party -- no one's going to disagree with that. There's clearly a sense that Steele's time as chair represents a massive missed opportunity, both financially and in terms of party growth, at the GOP. But what's the sense of rewarding the people who brought the party Michael Steele in the first place, especially after such a shameless act of treachery?

When Steele took over the RNC there were huge lay-offs of leftover from the old regime. Priebus comments criticizing the management of the RNC are the first he has uttered in since the beginning of Steele's chairmanship. If he couldn't manage to correct the course of the U.S.S. Michael Steele how the hell is he going to manage the rest of the party?

The Recess Supervisor praises Priebus' ambition and compares the move favorably in relation to the House Dems keeping Nancy Pelosi -- but aren't both moves really just the same thing?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wherein We Take a Swipe at Admittedly Low-Hanging Fruit

If you have 10 minutes of your life to waste, feel free to throw them away watching the video below. Afterward, I will gleefully explain why the fellow in said video is a nutcase.

The dude in the video is named Mark Jungwirth. He's an Oshkosh resident in his mid/late 20s and the ringleader of "We Are Change" Oshkosh -- a consortium of conspiracy theorists who live in an alternate reality populated by black helicopters and tin foil hats. These guys seem to think that the official or authoritative explanation to anything is reason enough to consider that account misleading and deceptive. As a result, their ranks are filled with 9/11 truthers, global warming deniers, Federal Reserve nonsensers, FEMA intern camps (seriously) warners, to name just a few of the numerous conspiracy theories to which these dudes subscribe.

Now, as a general rule, folks with such a tenuous grasp on reality tend to be hypersensitive to any real or merely perceived affront to their "rights." Unfortunately, these folks also tend to be poorly informed as to what exactly constitutes those "rights" and generally stick to an interpretation of the law that -- not surprisingly -- conforms quite conveniently to whatever their current situation or whim happens to be.

Take, for example, Mr. Jungwirth's trip to the bank. Not once does it occur to this young man that maybe ... maybe ... video-tapping in a bank is not kosher for reasons that should be rather obvious. Unfortunately, those reasons, obvious as they may be, become completely oblivious to Jungwirth the instant he detects a potential infringement on his rights and is faced with a potential opportunity to embarrass an institution with more power than he has.

"Why should that [i.e. filming the fingerprinting] be a problem?" he says in the video. "That really doesn't make any sense to me at all."

There's actually a lot going on here that make the elements of this situation the perfect ingredients for a total epistemological meltdown of Jungwirth's fragile worldview.

First, is the fingerprinting, which, of course is only done in police states. Second is the anti-video policy of the bank, which is clearly designed to censor the truth from the masses. Third, we're talking about a bank here -- or at least a credit union -- a powerful institution that unquestionably has it's greedy hands on the levers of power. I'm sure there's some Federal Reserve angle that fits in this milieu as well...

All that aside Jungwirth procedes to tell a strange version of his encounter prior to showing the clip from inside the building. He claims that the woman at the credit union -- who is justifiably pissed off at his little stunt -- called the place a "federal building" (1:30) when she quite clearly calls the credit union a "financial" (industry shorthand for a "financial institution" or "financial building"-- at around 6:10).

Jungwirth then explains that he was told exactly why he's being fingerprinted, noting that it's through a program called "Operation ID." While anything with the word "operation" certainly may have a sinister connotation to it, in this case it just a program that police forces around the country have been running for private citizens and small business for almost 30 years now to curtail property loss from theft. The program works substantially differently in a financial institution because the property in these places is usually just cash, hence the fingerprinting.

Jungwirth, however, freely admits in the video that he has no idea what Operation ID because he hasn't even bothered to do any fact-checking before taking to his vlog. Why bother to look for reasonable answers when one can portray one's self a persecuted champion of truth!


This brings us to the overarching problem of this incident: the credit union Jungwirth is patronizing is a private institution. It's not a government entity -- municipal, state, federal or otherwise. They are comlpetely within their rights to set up as many surveillance cameras as they want to on their property. They can demand that patrons not film on the their premises. If they wanted to require a fingerprint and a stool sample in order to withdraw money, that's they're call. It's probably a poor business decision, but very liberty that Jungwirth claims to be fighting for allows the credit union to operate in this fashion.

Jungwirth literally conjures up a completely new conspiracy theory out of nowhere and doesn't even bother to check the facts -- or his own video evidence -- before disseminating this sorted tale over the internets.

This is how conspiracy theories start in the far reaches of the fever swamps of the lunatic fringe. If you look at the comments section of the YouTube page, a poor soul from the credit union took it upon himself to try to explain just why Jungwirth is batshit insane. Unfortunately there's really no other recourse for the credit union to take against the action of a poorly informed, aggressively ignorant, belligerent asshole.

Personally, my favorite part of the video is when Jungwirth sells out the friend who accompanied him to the bank by essentially calling him a giant pussy for wanting to bail on the guerrilla filming session and then uses this as his excuse for not delivering the really important part of the discussion with the branch manager. "Oh, yeah, we would have totally gotten this awesome footage if only my cameraman wasn't such a giant gaping vagina!" Way to rally the troops...

There's a wealth of idiocy at We Are Change - Oshkosh's YouTube page. My personal favorite video can be found here. If you'd like to see Jungwirth interview Joe the Plumber (seriously) go here -- it's a real merge of the minds. Here's Jungwirth waxing ignorant on foreign affairs.

I honestly can't wait to see what this guy will do next.