February 28, 2005
Our media…and theirs
By Kristian Knutsen
This Friday, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is speaking at the Barrymore Theater in Madison on behalf of a campaign to broaden the cable news offerings in that city. According to the press release announcing the event, "Madison residents are organizing to add Free Speech TV to local cable's offerings through Charter Communications. This is an unprecedented campaign working to make Free Speech TV available as a full-time channel on the local cable system."
More information about the campaign is available here.
Meanwhile, it looks like the Chicago Tribune, which I criticized several weeks ago over its coverage of the Mendota Beacon, realized its error. In a correction on February 26, the Trib noted, "An article Feb. 7 in the main news section incorrectly stated that a new publication, The Mendota Beacon, would be the third independent student newspaper competing on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In fact, The Mendota Beacon is the fourth, joining The Daily Cardinal, The Badger Herald and The Madison Observer.
"The Tribune regrets the errors."
February 24, 2005
A suckers' game: reprised
By Bill Kraus
The way it works is the state Legislature assesses sales and income taxes. Then about two-thirds of the money these taxes produce is sent to local school boards, local governments, and people who the feds say are eligible for medical assistance (Medicaid).
This system is designed to give the Legislature maximum blame for taxing and minimum credit for helping educate the young, fund city, county, and town governments, and heal the hurting.
It's a suckers' game. It's been going on a very long time, and surprisingly there does not seem to be much appetite for changing it, even by the suckers.
In recent years as the cost of campaigning to become a part of the Legislature has risen dramatically, another suckers' game has been invented.
The way this works is that candidates for election and re-election spend hours on the phone asking for the money needed to finance their campaigns so they can pay their political consultants whose advice is to spend everything the candidates raise on 30-second television commercials, and if there is anything left over to spend that on 30-second television commercials too.
The candidates do the dirty work of dialing for dollars. The consultants and the television stations get rich.
February 22, 2005
It's up to the students (again)
By Josh Healey
Three weeks ago, UW-Madison student leaders delivered more than 5,000 signatures to Governor Doyle calling on him to lower tuition, increase diversity programs, add classes, and support UW employees with good contracts. The governor’s response, on February 8, was a budget that proposes to hike tuition another 14 percent (more than $800). That would be a 56 percent increase ($2,200) over the last four years! Doyle is also freezing funding to scholarships for low-income students and students of color, and looking to outsource UW janitors’ good, union jobs.
Just as bad, legislators’ aides told students last week that Chancellor Wiley has been lobbying for higher tuition behind our backs. Wiley had publicly presented himself as supporting students’ demands for the state to reinvest in the UW, but privately it seems he wants students to pony up even more—so that he can get a bigger bonus, no doubt.
So it is up to us – students, our families, and concerned community members – to tell the state legislators (especially the members of the Joint Finance Committee, which is now reviewing the budget) to open the doors of the UW to students of ALL incomes, races, and backgrounds: Join us at the UW Students’ Statewide Rally to “Save Our System” (S.O.S.), this Thursday, February 24, at noon, on the State Street corner of the Capitol.
Students are coming from all over the state for this rally, from UW-Milwaukee to UW-Eau Claire to UW-Marathon County, and 10 other UW campuses. The only time in the last 30 years when students got a tuition freeze was in 1999, when UW-Madison students led a 1,500-person walk out and march to the Capitol. It has been done, and we can do it again.
February 21, 2005
What's the Point?
By Kristian Knutsen
As Rep. Steve Nass simmers over Ward Churchill’s March 1 speaking appearance at UW-Whitewater, zealots in the conservative media are on the prowl for fresh servings of sanctimonious outrage. Specifically, Mark Hyman, host of "The Point" by Sinclair Broadcasting (yes, that Sinclair) went after UW-Superior professor Michael R. Ball on February 16.
As documented by Media Matters, "Hyman smeared two university professors and a college's women's studies program, distorting statements and taking them out of context in order to argue that American universities are home to 'unemployable individuals [who] are paid to proselytize intellectually bankrupt viewpoints'." In addition to attacking a University of Iowa professor who maintains a blog about "The Point" (i.e., The Counterpoint), Hyman smeared Ball as anti-Christian, claiming that Ball "announced in a published paper that he discovered the common thread of hate groups: Christianity."
As pointed out by Media Matters, however, "Ball's 1996 paper focused specifically on American hate groups, and it did not identify Christianity in general as a motivation for hate. Rather, Ball identified a particular ideology, 'Christian Identity' – a distinct and extremist ideology that has little to do with mainstream Christianity -- as one of several 'common threads' among the groups he studied."
David Neiwert, an author who focuses on homegrown extremism, wrote that Hyman is either "a blunderer of the first order, or he's an extremist mole. ... I'm hoping this was just a really dumb mistake." Regardless of how stupid Hyman may or may not be, this kind of shamelessness is merely par for the course from "The Point."
Sinclair remains the subject of ongoing attention from progressive media watchdogs, and is the owner of three stations in Wisconsin; WMSN (Fox 47) in Madison, and WCGV (UPN 24) and WVTV (WB 18) in Milwaukee. And, just so you know, all three stations' current licenses expire on December 1, 2005.
February 19, 2005
Laws on my body
By Stacie Whitacre
This week, a South Dakota legislative committee voted to make abortion a felony, should Roe vs. Wade ever be overturned. While one can point out the considerable shortcomings of a passing a pre-emptive, if-then law, it does bring up an interesting point -- what would happen if Roe vs. Wade is rendered void by the U.S. Supreme Court?
Well, in Wisconsin, as I understand it, nothing would happen immediately. But I am pretty sure someone (Grothman? Gundrum? Honadel? OK, I’ll stop, lest this list go on forever) would introduce restrictive legislation faster than you can say “morning-after pill.” And, in spite of Wisconsin’s progressive tradition and fairly libertarian bent when it comes to personal issues, it would probably pass, maybe even in a veto-proof manner.
Of course, a Wisconsin abortion ban would have negligible effect on women of means, who could easily travel to a state (or, failing that, to a nation) where the procedures are legal. For reference, Wisconsin legislators make $45,569 per year, plus up to $88 per day they are in session (unless they are from Dane County, in which case they get $44, except for John Gard, who still gets $88 even though he commutes from Sun Prairie). While nobody would mistake our legislators for Bill
Gates, they do make healthy salaries. Should the Proponents of Limited Government™ vote to give government control over women's bodies, the Proponents of Limited Government™ and their families would likely have little trouble obtaining said procedure, if necessary.
This seems to be true of many laws concerning personal conduct -- they do not actually affect the people who write them (tax law is, of course, fodder for another day). This is yet another reason we need more diversity among our elected officials. At least, then, maybe more lawmakers would remember where they came from and whom they represent.
(Editors' note: Stacie Whitacre maintains The Vast Dairy State Conspiracy Web log.)
February 18, 2005
Rationalizing property taxes
By Bill Kraus
What if instead of freezing property taxes or eferendizing property tax spending, we rationalized property taxes?
What if property taxes went only for that public spending that had to do with property? What if everyone who owned property paid for those public services with their property taxes? Would that add the missing element of logic to the frenzy to freeze, to the rush to referendi, to the almost universal urge to put a lid on this least loved tax?
Property taxes would be assessed to pay for obvious things like police and fire protection, water, sewer, streets, sidewalks, garbage collection, all those services that attend property ownership.
Some less vital but useful accoutrements like parks and similar property enhancements would be candidates for property tax assessments as well.
But that would be it. No schools. No social services. Nothing not property related. And no exemptions either. You own property. You pay property specific taxes. You're a charity? That's nice. You own property. You pay to keep it up. You also pay for the public services that attend property ownership.
This small, tentative step toward rationalizing this tax does raise a few questions, of course. Like how are we going to pay for non-property related public services and functions that property taxes pay for or help pay for now?
One thing at a time. If we can rationalize the property tax system first, we may even be able to make sensible decisions on how to pay for the other public services that our various governments provide.
February 16, 2005
By Dustin Beilke
If you have not seen it already, the Capital Times editorial about legislative blowhard Steve Nass is not to be missed. Nass recently went on Bill O'Reilly's TV "talk" show to get some mileage out of the Ward Churchill/UW-Whitewater situation. It turns out that Nass and O'Reilly are of the same mind on the issue.
The Cap Times' John Nichols comes at the Churchill/UW-Whitewater issue from a different direction for a national audience in the Online Beat column he writes for the Nation magazine.
And there is good news from Washington, for a change, as a new article in The Hill claims Reid, Pelosi and Dean are looking to clean house when it comes to the Democratic Party's favorite consultants. If so it's about time.
Democrats have a double-edged problem with consultants that the other side seems to avoid; they allow consultants almost complete control over many campaigns and they keep going back to the same consultants no matter how often they lose or how badly they misjudge their races.
Donna Brazile and Bob Shrum are the consultants everyone likes to pick on, but I suspect that is just because they are the only two most people can name. Can anyone name a good Dem consultant? I didn't think so.
February 14, 2005
The politics of not making sense
By James Goodman
I moved from Madison to New Zealand in January 2003, shortly before the U.S. attacked Iraq. One of the things that was obvious to me and nearly everyone else here at the time, but barely acknowledged in the U.S. press, was the lack of a link between the terrorist activities in the U.S. and the war on Iraq.
For more than a year, people asked me, "How does attacking Iraq relate to the terrorist attacks?" I could only point out that, for reasons I did not understand, this question was not even being discussed in the U.S. media, leading to a discussion of press freedom--a topic where the U.S. is regarded as backward. What was clear to everyone here was that the administration was using a tragic event to push its own agenda.
Today President Bush is again using a manufactured crisis to push his agenda, and again, the lack of a connection is readily apparent. The "crisis" is the claim that "Soc-Security" is in trouble. The "solution" is to dismantle one of the few American domestic programs that is universally admired. The obvious question is, "How does diverting funds from Social Security solve the problem of a small shortfall in the long term?" The answer, of course, is that it doesn't: This is no solution at all. It aggravates the very problem it is claiming to solve.
The idea of proposing a "solution" that does not address a problem is now a well-documented strategy in the Bush administration's playbook. But where is the outcry? This case is so clear-cut and obvious that it is hard to understand how knowledgeable people can take the Bush proposal seriously. What is wrong with the U.S. media that it can simply ignore this fraud? Have we entered another McCarthy era?
February 11, 2005
Maybe it’s the tax system
By Bill Kraus
One of my favorite aphorisms is “Nobody ever washed a rented car.” A close second is “Nobody is abstemious with someone else’s money.”
It seems to me that until and unless the Wisconsin tax system is rearranged in ways that make the spenders assess the taxes to cover what they spend, the second aphorism is going to be active and a propellant for what everyone complains about: government spending.
This, of course, sounds a lot easier to do than it is. Local income taxes, even local sales taxes, bring a lot of undesirable incentives and disincentives into play. But some serious re-sorting of responsibilities and accountabilities is possible.
As long as the state government is collecting and redistributing money for others to spend, everybody has an excuse for unsatisfactory results (“the state didn’t give me enough money”) or high expenses (“the locals are overspending, not us”; “mandates made me do it”).
Spending limits are inevitably procrustean, which is bad, and add another layer of excuses, which is worse.
The law of unintended consequences can be expected to raise havoc with a change in the tax and spend system we have patched together over the last 156 years, but that seems to me to be a risk worth taking to get more accountability into—and a lot of excuses out of—our system.
February 10, 2005
By Kristian Knutsen
Last Monday, the Chicago Tribune ran an article titled “Right-on gets new take at UW-Madison: Conservative paper to bow on campus.” It detailed the February 12 debut of a new UW-Madison student newspaper named the Mendota Beacon.
Affiliated with the UW College Republicans, the Mendota Beacon is scheduled to be published every other week this spring, and is expected to be weekly by this fall. UW junior Tim Shea is the paper’s managing editor and public face, but it is receiving funding through an Arlington, Virginia, based organization named the Leadership Institute, which in turn is bankrolled by the likes of Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation and the Coors-affiliated Castle Rock Foundation, according to Cursor’s Media Transparency database.
What is interesting about the Tribune article, though, is in what it does not report.
The reporter, Robert Gutsche Jr., gets his facts wrong in his first two sentences when he writes, “The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the few public universities with two competing independent student newspapers. And soon the historically liberal hotbed will have a third paper, this one with a conservative twist.” The problem is the Mendota Beacon will be the fourth newspaper on the UW-Madison campus. The third is The Madison Observer, which is nearly two years old and already is to the campus left what the Mendota Beacon hopes to be to the campus right.
In all of the media coverage of the Mendota Beacon, including articles in the UW’s Daily Cardinal, The Capital Times, the Wisconsin State Journal, and a local news feature on Madison’s ABC television affiliate (WKOW), no one mentions the Madison Observer; rather, they all portray the Mendota Beacon as the only fresh face among UW-Madison campus papers. Case in point, the WKOW Web site blurb begins, “First, there was the "Daily Cardinal," then the "Badger Herald," now the "Mendota Beacon" is trying to make it's (sic) mark on UW's campus.” Digging deeper, I found that there have been no mentions whatsoever of the Madison Observer in either of Madison’s dailies, except for one reference in a Capital Times article listing awards given last fall by a UW alumni group.
Is it “balanced” or “objective” for the mainstream media to report on a brand-new conservative media project while completely ignoring its two-year old progressive competitor?
James Baughman, director of the UW-Madison journalism school, was quoted in the Tribune article about the opportunities and pitfalls faced by the Mendota Beacon. I asked Baughman why he thinks the Observer has been ignored by the press while the Mendota Beacon has been promoted; he thought this was a fair question.
“Reporters have long sort-of stereotyped the campus as more liberal or progressive than it really is,” he said. “That’s how they see it.” The progressive campus paper is not really on the radar of the local media, because “the press does function from stereotypes, and this is one of them.”
So, it is only news if conservatives try to counteract deficiencies they see in the media?
Karen Rivedal, the State Journal higher education reporter who wrote about the Mendota Beacon in December said, “a conservative paper is more out of the norm for UW-Madison. It’s a more unique circumstance in a place most people think of as a liberal bastion.”
Cristina Daglas, the Badger Herald editor who as been quoted extensively in these articles, agreed. She said, “one reason could be that Madison is a very political campus, and that when a conservative newspaper comes into a town that is thought of as very liberal, that’s news.” She thought that this novelty angle was a poor excuse for inaccurate reporting, however, as the Beacon “is the fourth, not third student newspaper.”
Daglas also suggested another reason for all the press: “The Mendota Beacon’s managing editor is doing a lot of work contacting people.” She believes the paper’s funders have an excellent PR operation, and are getting word of the debut out successfully. Cliff Behnke, managing editor of the State Journal, confirmed this, saying the Mendota Beacon “probably put out a press release” in order to get coverage, and the Observer would be accorded the same treatment if they promoted themselves similarly.
Why do hothouse campus newspaper politics matter? For one reason, the Mendota Beacon is the newest farm team receiving funding from a national foundation dedicated to fostering the next generation of conservative media nomenklatura. Prominent pundits like Ann Coulter, Rich Lowry, Michelle Malkin, J.D. "Jeff Gannon" Guckert, and the now repentant David Brock were incubated via umbilical cords to supporters like the Leadership Institute, nutured expressly for the purpose of injecting raw ideology into the commercial media to drive it as rightward as possible.
Just as importantly, the wide play the Mendota Beacon’s debut has received in Madison’s and the Midwest’s largest papers demonstrate why this matters. It demonstrates the mainstream media’s willingness to promote conservative media to the exclusion of counterparts on the left. It demonstrates their willingness to pay attention to complaints of ‘liberal bias’ while ignoring complaints of ‘conservative’ or ‘corporate’ bias, though there is no shortage of such from the left. It demonstrates the tendency of editors and reporters to ignore inconvenient facts in order to frame their stories according to (oftentimes overplayed) conventional wisdom; in this case, that of insurgent conservatives fighting against a so-called liberal media.
If I wrote in conservative blogger vernacular, this is the point at which I would probably say something like this kind of imbalance is proof that the news pages of the State Journal or the Chicago Tribune are objectively promoting right-wing politics. I do not believe that is quite the case, however. What this really shows is how mainstream media reporting works these days, and how lazy it can sometimes be, particularly where contentious ideological battles over the media are concerned. Most importantly, it demonstrates the need for grassroots, progressive media outlets to promote themselves effectively and compel the mainstream media to take notice.
February 9, 2005
Brooks & Dumb
By Dustin Beilke
Tom Frank spends a great deal of time in his terrific book What’s the Matter with Kansas? eviscerating New York Times columnist David Brooks’ oversimplified arguments and baleful inaccuracies in telling the Red State/Blue State story. Brooks, author of Bobos in Paradise, is hell bent on insisting that people who vote for Democrats are rich intellectual elitists and people who vote for Republicans are honest and hard working Americans; the Republican Party is truly populist and the Democratic Party only occasionally pretends to be (I quarrel more with the first half of this formulation than the second).
In a February 5 NYT column that ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel yesterday, Brooks is at it again. This time it is Howard Dean’s ascension to an almost certain victory as chair of the Democratic National Committee that Brooks uses to “prove” his case.
Brooks’ main point is that as organizations such as Elks Lodges and Rotary Clubs have declined in membership and importance special interests have filled the gap and reshaped politics. In BrooksWorld, the Democratic special interests are the affluent and educated people who join “NARAL and NOW” and the Republican special interests are the regular, good people who join the NRA and go to church. (Theda Skocpol, the Harvard professor whose work Brooks cites to make his arguments, has already disagreed with his conclusions and said he mostly misused her research.)
Brooks says Dean has mobilized all of these elites—in addition to women’s organizations he also mystifyingly lists the University of California, Harvard, Stanford, Time Warner, and Microsoft—and brought them and their money to one place. Dean represents a minority of Democratic voters but a supermajority of the Democratic voters who have the most money and loudest voices.
There are at least 100 reasons why this is nonsense, only one of which is Brooks’ unwillingness to admit that corporate money controls both parties. But what is interesting is that the truth is pretty much the opposite of what Brooks wants us to believe: Dean represents essentially everyone who is not a big donor, which happens to be almost all Democrats except those who have traditionally controlled the DNC.
If Brooks were able to see class as anything other than a set of consumer choices and fashion preferences, he might not look so foolish. But then again, spouting this drool is what secured him a spot on the NYT op-ed page in the first place, so what incentive would he have to change?
February 6, 2005
The Lobbyists’ Legislature
By Christa Westerberg
Last week, a friend and I testified at a state Assembly committee hearing against a bill we oppose. Which bill is unimportant for the moment; rather, it was the way my friend and I were treated as private citizens at our state Legislature that has raised my ire.
You see, several business interests are concerned about this bill, so lobbyists and corporate-types appeared at the hearing in droves. The lobbyists were allowed to testify first, so our meager citizen comments were only heard a good five hours into the hearing, after many committee members had left.
Once we did testify, we were addressed by our first names, while other speakers had been addressed as Mr. So-and-So—a nice pat on the head. But then my friend and I took a position that was unpopular with many committee members, who became confrontational and practically interrogated us about our views. Some of the lobbyists had been asked a few tough questions, but they did not get our treatment.
Things worsened when committee members started asking us personal questions. For example, my friend was questioned intensely about what she does for a living and the source of her income, clearly seeking to impeach her motives. While I can understand asking people who are paid to testify who, in fact, is paying them, there is no reason to ask a private citizen giving unpaid testimony about the source of her income.
Call me naïve, but one would think legislators would be glad to have citizens participate in lawmaking. As it turned out, my friend and I felt most unwelcome, as if the legislators were uncomfortable dealing with actual, non-suit-wearing citizens. My friend and I knew we certainly would not be invited to future meetings—alluded to during the hearing—where legislators would attempt resolve concerns about the bill among competing business interests.
With democracy like this, who needs plutocracy?
February 4, 2005
'For and to us'
By Bill Kraus
One of my granddaughter's teachers recently assigned her to put a personal slant on the "old days" by asking a grandparent a series of questions about his or her life. The most interesting one I was asked was:
"What was the most important personal invention created during your lifetime?"
My answer was:
Television. Not for itself, but for what it did for and to us. It widened our world, and it changed society in ways that have changed the way we relate to one another (by privatizing leisure) and govern ourselves (by turning what had been a participatory activity into a spectator sport).
What's your answer?
February 1, 2005
Beam me up
By Stacie Whitacre
I admit I never took Logic 101 in college (although I always have had an affinity for Leonard Nimoy). So, perhaps those of you in the audience might be able to tell me if state Republicans left their Aristotle in their other briefcase this year, or they are just (as they like to say) out of touch.
For example, everyone's favorite wingnut Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) says the reason we need a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in Wisconsin is because local-level legislators are just too nice. They just want to please everyone, and avoid conflict, so they go ahead and spend, spend, spend. I would love to see a flowchart or something, explaining just how he came to the conclusion that city councils and county boards are over-indulgent parents who keep buying their kids new schools and snow-plowing operations and prisons.
At least this is not as painfully self-contradictory as Waukesha County Exec Dan Finley's recent editorial, in which he spends the bulk of his time pointing out any hypothetical TABOR's considerable shortcomings before he endorses a statuatory version of same.
On another float in the Republican Parade of Bad Ideas, Alan Lasee (R-De Pere) once again wants to re-instate the death penalty in Wisconsin, even though, I bet if you asked, most people would say they haven't missed it over the last 152 years. Why now? He says it is because the world has gotten more violent.
This is making my head hurt. I think I will stick with Star Trek.
By Dustin Beilke
The consensus is that Howard Dean is in the lead in the February 12 race for chair of the Democratic National Committee.
That is good news, as activist Dean is the closest thing to the antithesis of current company-man chair Terry McAuliffe among those running.
The even better news, as reported by the L.A. Times, is that the Democratic governors and congressional representatives who oppose Dean are afraid to speak up because they fear angering his online and activist base. (Hey, that's us!)
And it is about time elected Democrats started fearing rank-and-file Democrats. Perhaps that is the first step in the process of representing the people who elect them.
Let's hope so anyway.