Wisconsin State Journal buries the lede Editorial celebrates needle in haystack

Consider the latest Wisconsin State Journal Sunday editorial:

Higher ed proposals will help, but much more is needed to hold down college cost

Here’s what’s wrong.  Since gaining control in 2010, the GOP has vastly increased the problems for higher ed in EVERY budget they’ve passed. If they now offer some little 5% put-back — arguably just window dressing — it’s still a record of 95% damage.

Why is the State Journal crediting the 5%? Readers deserve a discussion of the 95%.

Hey, isn’t this blog shut down? Well, yes...

Isn’t this blog shut down?? Well, yes, it is.

We announced it back on October 8, 2012.   Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill

But it turns out that a WordPress blog is a simple, frictionless, software gadget. For a teensy amount of money, it waits like an old truck in the garage. You can fire it up, if you ever get the mind to, and take it out for a drive. And as it happens… from time to time, we do.

We know that blog readers need a steady stream of fresh posting to visit regularly. That’s fine. When we post a thought, we don’t need anyone to read it. For some reason we just had to write something down.

Does Donald Trump signal the end of Republicanism? A man 'in search of a balcony' reveals the strains within the party

Toles - The Trump Problem - panel 1

For many in the GOP — let’s guess about half? — Donald Trump is an embarrassment. When he characterizes Mexican immigrants as rapists, or talks about banning Muslim visits to the U.S., or suggests a federal database to track Muslim-Americans, he embarrasses about half of the GOP. This wing of the GOP understands that racial fear-mongering can play a role in winning elections, but it has been crafted for decades now in a way that allows for deniability. Suddenly, Trump’s loud-mouthery gives away the game. The unsophisticated bluntness, they fear, stands to alienate a generation of voters that the party is going to need in the future.

The other half of the problem is the Trump supporters. For many in the most hard-core GOP base — let’s guess about a third? — Trump’s explicit racism is an actual and welcome relief. They agree, hell yes. Enough with the ‘political correctness’. Why not be honest? This cohort despises ‘multiculturalism’, or ‘tolerance’, or whatever-you-call-it. We want our country back! they say. They believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

The GOP consists of both of these voting blocks. Is this a political party that can endure?

Toles - The Trump Problem - panel 2

Paul Ryan: Statesman or Un-glued Nutball? Feel the "intellectual heft"

The New York Times castigates two prominent Republicans (care to guess who? it’s not that easy) for a howling storm of  misrepresentation following President Obama’s executive announcements on gun law enforcement.

Winning answers: Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan, nut“From Day 1,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, “the president has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding.” Mr. Ryan said that “rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”

Oh, fer pete’s sake. More examiners to process our existing background checks for gun buyers. Is that really a ‘form of intimidation’? An ‘undermining of liberty’? Good grief.They're coming for our cars

The only detail making Ryan’s words less stupid than the militia occupying that bird place in Oregon is that Ryan didn’t capitalize the “L” in liberty. That could’ve been the cherry on top. Let’s thank Ryan for foregoing the cherry.

And let’s note, this wasn’t just an off-hand comment from the Congressman. As Speaker, he has now got a communications team of nine full-timers. The Times (above) was quoting his official press release which was reinforced by a Twitter tweet, a flattering photo, and all helpfully tagged ‘Second Amendment’ for the benefit of text-based search engines

Can this be the same Paul Ryan our fawning, local newspaper hailed as a ‘statesman‘?

Let’s not talk about it Editorial page editor's go-to move

dollar bill origamiPaul Krugman notes that Republican candidates running for the biggest possible job are once again — hold on to your hat — proposing huge tax cuts for the 1%:

…both Jeb! and Trump are proposing cuts that would do more fiscal damage than anything W enacted, with the following estimates of the 10-year increase in debt as a percentage of GDP:

W: 18.2
Jeb: 28.2
Trump: 39.2

So far, the Tax Policy Center has only published full analysis for the Bush and Trump tax plans, but rest assured all the Republican presidential candidates — yes, all of them — are competing to wreck the federal balance sheet. Mostly via tax cuts tilted toward the very wealthy.

Will the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page notice any of this? Editor Milfred frequently sounds like a guy who wants to pay for things. Republicans, too, like to talk about balanced budgets. Could it all be just political posing? Well, yes, it could. How should we evaluate politicians who talk about fiscal responsibility but do not act? How should we evaluate opinion writers who never seem to notice these patterns?

This country did, in fact, have a balanced budget 15 years ago when Bill Clinton turned over the reins to George W. Bush. W, of course, promptly piddled it away, mostly on tax cuts for the rich. Sound familiar?

Of course, the balanced budget of the Clinton years is carefully and intentionally never mentioned by Republicans. But it’s also never mentioned by our local daily newspaper… which makes one think.

How can the front page be at war with the back page? Wisconsin State Journal shows us how

Paris Climate Conference.  Wisconsin State Journal headline:

“Event goal: Avert global havoc”

WSJ front page

Is this headline controversial? Well, sure and alas, it is.

The headline seems to offer matter-of-fact acceptance that global climate change is real. It is real, of course, but not everyone believes it.

Oh, yes, the insurance industry, the Department of Defense, and scores of U.S. corporations all recognize that climate change is real. Scientists are in consensus. Really, all serious people recognize this looming danger. But that’s not everyone, is it. In point of fact, one of our two major political parties remains ludicrously married to climate denialism.

And that brings us to the back pages of the Wisconsin State Journal. There, on the editorial page, where they ought to be able to speak freely, they’ve got almost nothing to say. On the front page, as we noted, they can say the words “Avert global havoc,” but on the back page, they’re sound asleep. How does this happen? Mr. Milfred, the apparent editorial page editor for life, is snoring away.

Consider Milfred’s recent editorial page celebration of Congressman Paul Ryan — an over-the-top tribute which dubbed Ryan a “statesman” and a figure of “intellectual heft”. Somehow — and we know not how — Milfred seems not to know about Ryan’s nutty stance on climate change.

Writing in New York magazine, Jonathan Chait said this about Ryan’s climate change stance:

During a debate last night for his election to the House, Paul Ryan was asked if he believes that human activity has contributed to global warming. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” he replied, “I don’t think science does, either.”

In fact, science does know the answer. Climate scientists believe with a 95 percent level of certainty (the same level of certainty as their belief in the dangers of cigarette smoking) that human activity is contributing to climate change. There are things science knows, and this is one of them. Scientists may not have the answer to what policies are appropriate for responding to the fact that greenhouse-gas emissions cause changes to the environment, but they can tell us what happens when we release heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere.

This is another way of saying that Paul Ryan is a nut.

Is “nut” too strong a word? Too colorful? Maybe for some. But really, no one should offer up baseless nonsense about a grave problem facing the planet and still have claim to “intellectual heft”.


Blundering Paul Ryan destroys 350 middle-class jobs in Waukesha "Policy wonk Paul Ryan" --Wisconsin State Journal, 10-14-2015

Paul Ryan 12As we noted earlier, in the process of urging Paul Ryan to run for the House Speaker’s job, the State Journal went way over the top ladling on words like (Did we say, Over.The.Top.?) “statesman,” “intellectual heft” and “political savvy.”

Their piece also included this puzzling bit:

…he’s railed against the “crony capitalism” of Washington that delivers favors to well-connected special interests…

That surprised us. Ryan’s surely made a name for himself as an enemy of Social Security and Medicare, but has he really been “railing” against “crony capitalism”? We’d missed that.

Now we’ve stumbled on the answer. Yes, he sort of has been “railing,” but it’s actually a shabby little bit of political theater which has now led to 350 lost jobs in Waukesha.


Ryan has been shoulder-to-shoulder with Tea Party members in the House who are eager to shut down the U.S. Export Import Bank, a smallish federal agency that has never, until this year, been controversial. You can be forgiven if you never paid attention to the U.S. Export-Import Bank. No one paid it any attention, except for exporters and importers.

But why do America’s most conservative Congresspeople suddenly want to kill off the Ex-Im Bank?

There is no argument that the bank has been a drain on the Treasury. It never cost taxpayers at all; it made money. Every year it sent a sizeable profit back to the U.S. Treasury ($675 million last year). And, of course, it supported billions of dollars in private business profits, which was its mission. And of course, it inevitably supported lots of private sector jobs. It actually sounds quite useful. Why were conservatives in Congress trying to kill it?

The truth is it’s just a good talking point, if you’re speaking to a rabidly anti-gov’t audience.  By killing Ex-Im the Tea Party lawmakers could show supporters that they’re really doing something to make government smaller.

And they did shut down Ex-Im for 3 months. In July the Tea Party zealots of the House, along with Mr. Ryan, blocked reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank.  (This just in: In a big-surprise vote last night, the House has voted to re-approve Ex-Im.)  But back to Paul Ryan.

Here is Ryan back in July explaining why he wanted to get rid of the Ex-Im Bank. Note that it is pure ideology:

My friend Rep. Jeb Hensarling has recently launched a great challenge against the crony capitalist economy, and in particular, against one of its manifestations, the Export-Import Bank. But the bank is just one example of how bureaucratic government is corrupting free enterprise through and through. Conservatives must stop defending this. Cronyism is the Progressives’ project for economic control. Let them defend it.

And in Waukesha, Wisconsin, because of this Ex-Im Bank kerfuffle, General Electric announced the closing of its large-engine manufacturing plant:

Blaming Congress for its failure to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank, an institution that finances sales of U.S. industrial equipment to overseas customers, General Electric Co. says it will stop manufacturing engines in Waukesha and move that work to Canada.

About 350 jobs will be lost at the Waukesha plant, where GE Power & Water, a division of Fairfield, Conn.-based GE, builds engines used in the petroleum industry.

The company says it will move the production to a new $265 million engine factory to be built in Canada during the next 20 months.

GE has said the decision will not be reconsidered.

Please re-read Mr. Ryan’s words. Try to find the “statesman,” “intellectual heft” and “political savvy” stuff the State Journal wrote about.


Wisconsin State Journal giddy for Paul Ryan as Speaker

paul Ryan 1Days ago we predicted the Wisconsin State Journal would print a rapturous editorial supporting Paul Ryan for Speaker of the House. Sure enough, they delivered a fawning tribute that Ryan’s own staff could’ve written. According to the State Journal, not just the Republican House but the entire country needs Paul Ryan in the Speaker’s chair.

The editorial calls him a policy wonk (Ryan’s favorite claim). They say he’s fearless, he’s a leader of substance, he’s got intellectual heft, he’s a grown-up, he’s pragmatic, he’s a statesman. Jiminy-pop, the State Journal is head over heels.

Amusingly, just before climaxing, the editorial’s author (Milfred we assume) gets so worked up that he can no longer write, edit, or use a spell checker, offering this:

The Republicans badly need a statesmen [sic] in charge of the House with intellectual heft and political savvy.

(It’s a one sentence with both a typo and a misplaced preposition. But let’s put that aside. Shouldn’ta mentioned it. Mistakes are part of life. Later, we’ll throw in a few typos of our own, just in solidaridy, because we is all humen.)

The real problem here is the over-the-top adoration thrown at Congressman Ryan. “Intellectual heft”?  “Statesman”? We don’t see it.

The truth is there’s almost nothing — at the policy level — to distinguish Ryan from any of his Republican colleagues. He’s a reliable booster of more and more tax cuts for the rich. This is simply a Republican orthodoxy. It has shown itself again and again (see below) to work nicely for the rich and work badly for everyone else.

Currently all the GOP candidates for president want tax cuts for the rich.  The [conservative] Tax Foundation estimates a Rubio plan would cut 27.9 percent for the top 1 percent. The Jeb Bush plan would raise after-tax income of top earners by 16.4 percent.  Trump would raise income of the top 1 percent by 27 percent.

This is just standard modern Republican theology. It’s not “wonkery.” And it’s not “fearless.” Enabling a tiny minority of king-makers to buy our elections — for what seems a tiny outlay to them — is a lousy idea for America. Lousy.

Income - divergence at the top

And indeed, in a nice bit of reporting at the New York Times, we saw the headline last week

Just 158 families have
provided nearly half of the
early money for efforts to
capture the White House

(i.e., 138 families backing Republicans, 20 families backing Democrats)


Of course there’s more to Congressman Paul Ryan than his tax cuts for the rich.

He “doesn’t know” if humans are causing climate change , and he opposes any steps to combat it. Such fearlessness! Such intellectual heft! The State Journal has really taken the measure of the man.

His religious views on abortion are translated into votes on policy, as are his prejudices (religious or otherwise) against gays.

And as we noted earlier:

Surely the State Journal guys know about the now famous meeting on the night of Obama’s first inauguration. Republican leaders met at a tony D.C. steakhouse where they agreed in advance, simply as a self-serving partisan strategy, to oppose whatever Obama would seek to do. In their plan Obama would have no accomplishments to run on for a 2nd term. And whatever that meant for the American people was irrelevant. Surely the State Journal guys watched this strategy — a pure partisan strategy — play out over the next 7 years. And surely they knew that Paul Ryan was one of the small group settling on that strategy that night.

Yes, in 2013 he did cut a budget deal with Democrats. So America continued to have a federal government, and the world had its benchmark currency. This doesn’t make him a great pragmatist with “intellectual heft”.  It’s what any sane American wanted, and perhaps more to the point, it’s what bond-holders wanted.

The State Journal can urge Ryan to run for the Speaker’s job. They can fairly say that since he is respected among Republicans, he might be able to reign in loose-cannon colleagues in the House who are threatening anarchy in our federal government and in world financial markets. Of course, that might be bad for Mr. Ryan’s prospects in the future. The State Journal recognizes the potential danger to Ryan’s reputation if he were suddenly more in the public eye. But what the State Journal should not have done is ladle on the thick, worshipful praise. It’s just silly. It tells more about the State Journal than it tells about the congressman.