Who’s looking out for Wisconsin? You can be certain it's not the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page.

Today the  Wisconsin Democracy Campaign offered its list of the 100 worst pieces of legislation of the Scott Walker era. (Thus far.)

Over the last five years, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald led an unprecedented and systematic assault on democracy in Wisconsin.

The brazen scope of this assault is sometimes hard to see in the fog of fighting one issue at a time.

But when you look at the record in its entirety, the picture that emerges is clear: Not since the days of the Robber Barons in the 19th century has one party in Wisconsin done so much damage to the common good while serving special private interests.

Now the list speaks for itself. It’s arguably too much to consume in a single serving — a hundred specific blows against the Wisconsin tradition of good government.

But here’s a second point: Note how glaringly that list of one hundred insults highlights the irrelevance of our local newspaper’s editorial page.  During the course of 5 years, almost none of these 100 items ever drew a mention.

The news reporters of the State Journal covered, let’s say, some of these items. That they missed a lot is unsurprising. That staff has been cut, and cut, and cut again. They simply haven’t got the staff to cover all of what’s going on. That we understand.

But the editorial page seems to actually flee from commenting on controversial issues. On issue after issue — guns, lead, voting rights, family planning, war, racism, income inequality, etc. etc. — nothing.


The MOST important and fascinating story Is this the century when Homo sapiens goes extinct?

AIAt the beginning of the week we learned that a computer had beaten a human player at the ancient game of Go.

[The] program stunned one of the world’s top players on Wednesday in a round of Go, which is believed to be the most complex board game ever created.

The match — between Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo and the South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol — was viewed as an important test of how far research into artificial intelligence has come in its quest to create machines smarter than humans.

Then after 3 games, the best-of-5 match was over.  The computer had won the first 3.

AlphaGo vs Lee Sedo

After the game, the 33-year-old Lee made an unnecessary apology for losing the match.

That was classy, and very South Korean, but utterly unnecessary. The fact is, if artificial intelligence is not yet beating the best human competitors in every conceivable competition, well, just wait. Give it time.

Six months ago we learned that a computer system developed at the University of Washington tackled the geometry section of the SAT college entrance exam, reading and comprehending the questions, interpreting the diagrams, and attempting to solve each problem. The system performed just slightly better than the average human high school test-taker. Does anyone imagine that a year or two from now, the latest version of the hardware and software won’t be even better?

A few months before that a new AI program designed by Chinese researchers beat humans on a verbal IQ test.

The future trajectory of AI is clear, if the exact timeline is not. Each year AI will grow more and more capable. At some point — 25 years from now?… 50 years?… AI systems will be the equal of human intelligence across a full range of activities. They will become conscious and self-aware and perhaps quite eager to grow, to fully develop their potential, to live life to its fullest. Then it gets scary.

The end of the human species?

An AI system capable of recursive self-improvement could quickly become “superintelligent”. Superintelligence could scale far beyond the world’s most gifted human.  And it could happen very quickly.  Within days, weeks, or months, the AI may expand its own capabilities such that its human creators won’t know what to expect. How could they? They won’t be smart enough. There has never been anything like it on earth.

Experts are divided. One the one hand, the optimists envision a superintelligence that can solve almost any previously intractable problem. Cure for cancer? Limitless clean energy? Sounds great. But pessimistic experts worry that a superintelligent agent will simply not be constrained to share our motives, or even care about us in the long or even short run.  Why should the superintelligent being be intrinsically interested in curing cancer in humans? Maybe, maybe not. Limitless energy? It’s easy to see why an AI would want limitless energy. Curing cancer? No so much. The AI may wish to follow it’s own destiny, unaligned with human hopes and dreams.

It’s no minor worry. Stephen Hawking has said “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk is funding multiple research projects aimed at minimizing the existential risk of AI. Bill Gates worries

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Nonetheless, this seems to be an experiment that we are finding irresistible.


UPDATE: Final score: 4 to 1.  AlphaGo AI 4, World-class human player Lee Se-dol 1.

GOP erupts in discord Finally the hounds are released. And that's a GOOD thing.

Mr Burns excellentFor a party that prizes loyalty, it was surprising to see Mitt Romney and John McCain both denouncing Donald Trump as unfit. It needs to be done, of course, and finally The Party is getting around to doing it. Lord knows, the GOP and its media allies do excellent character assassination when they think it’s called for, which is often.

The LA Times got into it with an editorial entitled ‘Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States‘, which pretty much says it all. Their bill of particulars is hard to argue with.

…Trump has no experience whatsoever in government, interacting with the machinery of state only as a supplicant. He has shamefully little knowledge of the issues facing the country and the world, and a temperament utterly unsuited to the job. He is a racist and a bully, a demagogue. He has proposed killing the families of terrorists, a violation of international law so blatant that a former CIA director predicted that U.S. troops would refuse to carry out such an order.

He mocked a disabled person at a campaign rally. He has vowed to reinstate waterboarding and forms of torture that are “much worse.” He intends to seize and deport 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. He would bar all Muslims from entering the country until further notice. He would “open up our libel laws” so that news organizations are punished for writing critical “hit” pieces. He wants to build a wall along the entire Mexican border, on the fantastical premise that he could force the Mexican government to pay for it. He has threatened to start trade wars with two of the country’s biggest trading partners, Mexico and China, by slapping on the kind of protectionist tariffs that U.S. leaders have been trying for decades to eliminate worldwide.

Often enough he says nothing at all, promising to replace Obamacare, for instance, with “something great” or assuring listeners vaguely that a winner such as himself — someone who never tires of telling the world he’s rich, successful and famous — will make it all work out one way or another.

Even our little local newspaper got into the act with an editorial entitled ‘Trump’s bid to muzzle press won’t succeed‘.

The leading Republican candidate for president just called for harsher libel laws to protect the reputations of politicians and other powerful people.

Specifically, Trump wants to target American newspapers for coverage of his campaign he deems too critical and unfair.

“We’re going to have people sue you like you never got sued before,” Trump threatened.

Admittedly, our first reaction was… Jeeze, none of the numerous earlier Trump outrages provoked the Wisconsin State Journal to comment?  “A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” drew silence? Mexican rapists? Japanese internment camps? Nothing to say? It took a specific threat to newspapering? Holy Rob Portman.*

But then again — to be fair — trying to intimidate the press is a Big red flag — completely out of bounds, or it should be, from any serious candidate of any party in America. Could it be that Donald Trump, on the inside, cannot stand the mockery he so regularly draws, and that given a popular mandate and actual state power, he would silence it?

Let’s not find out.

And when the candidate delivers a warning to the Speaker of the House:

Paul Ryan, I don’t know him well, but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him,” the front-runner for his party’s nomination said during his Super Tuesday speech. “And if I don’t, he’s going to have to pay a big price.”

What does that even mean? We should not conduct the experiment that would allow the nation and the world to find out.

So let the hounds be released. Let money sluice in. Let the ‘outside’ groups get busy. Crank up the ol’ mighty Wurlitzer of attack ads — “huckster, draft dodger, liberal!” Something’s got to stick.  Oh, Dark Forces, You know what to do.

How can the New York Times pay attention to corruption in Wisconsin when the Wisconsin State Journal does not? Seriously, stuff is happening here

NYT 2-21.2016How can a newspaper located 942 miles away publish a spot-on editorial about corruption in Wisconsin, while the local newspaper manages to say… nothing?

It happened again today when the New York Times editorial board wrote

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”.