When agendas attack

Each year the Wisconsin State Journal lays out its editorial “agenda” — its top 5 points of emphasis for the coming year. Today was the day for 2012.  

We always read these agendas as a mix of Promise, Platitude, Threat and Errant Nonsense, today being no exception.

√ Let’s first acknowledge what they get right. They want to clean up both legislative redistricting and the Madison lakes. Non-partisan redistricting is a no-brainer for anyone except for the politicians who would need to give up this one precious power. The 99%™ doubtless agree with the Journal on this one point. (Or is it the other way around?)  And clean lakes? Yes, everybody‘s for that, too. The Clean Lakes Alliance is doing the lord’s work. So the Journal is on board for two things that everyone was already for.  Good.

√ Moving on to the ambiguous: The Journal wants to increase graduation rates for minority students. Laudable. Of course, everybody agrees. (Is there a trend here? We’re sensing one.) The problem, of course, is not the goal, but how to get there. And we can say with complete confidence that the State Journal editorial board has no more expertise in improving education than it does in building high performance race cars. Solutions, if they come, will come from elsewhere. We know this because the Journal sums up the bullet point with this worthless nugget:

Local and state leaders need new strategies — not simply more money — to narrow the racial and economic achievement gaps.

It’s always important to emphasize the vital role that ‘no more money’ (well, actually less money, billions less) is playing in our efforts to educate the kids. Always remember, as the Journal does, that education is not an area that benefits from money. CEO’s and investment bankers are incentivized by money. Teachers need “new strategies” from “local and state leaders.” Look for the Journal to publish more mush as the year goes on, although maybe someone will propose something worthwhile and the Journal will nod its approval. You never know.

√ Errant Nonsense: Continuing unapologetically with last year’s misguided agenda item, the board promises to argue for appointing rather than electing the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Yes, the court has suffered badly in recent years from what the Journal calls “nasty, money-soaked” elections. Everyone agrees, (hm…) but what to do? Get rid of the money-soaked nastiness? No, says the Journal. Get rid of the elections!

The Figure 5 in Gold

Fans of the Type 5 Unintentionally Hilarious editorial are guaranteed minutes of fun in the coming year as they quickly scan and ignore the State Journal editorial page, which here promises to CONTINUE ignoring THE fundamental problem of money corrupting our governance as they push instead for some right-angled bandage-work.

Dang this plague of bedbugs! We must all sleep hanging from ropes!


√ Finally, let’s consider the top of the 2012 agenda: “Improve Economic Competitiveness”. Jeez, did they hafta begin with this claptrap?

Government doesn’t create jobs. The private sector does.

A pure ideological word game. The government can of course create jobs, and it does, and it ought to when the private economy goes into a prolonged slump. Do socialist countries not have jobs? Do highway builders not have jobs? To say that highway builders only have jobs because private sector workers pay taxes is no more correct than saying private workers only have jobs because taxes built highways. They are both just childishly stupid and simplistic.  Is this kind of buffoonery actually bouncing around in the heads of the State Journal editorial board?

Well, they give us an idea of where they’re going.

  1. Support for a state venture capital fund championed by former State Journal associate editor Tom Stills (which might be fine if the state can participate in the wins as well as losses).
  2. Northwoods mining, with “smart, streamlined regulation” that will operate “without ruining natural beauty.” (no comment) and
  3. some darn nice buzzwords:

“continued focus on regional cooperation and shared goals for economic success.”

Well, then! You can bet we’re looking forward to the coming year now that we know, sort of, what to expect.

State Journal says job statistics super confusing


We all know anything can happen on the State Journal editorial page, so we were excited to find that — today at least — they were taking up something important in an editorial titledDon’t jump to conclusions on jobs.”  An excellent start. Probably we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about anything, should we. It’s like the sentence, “Don’t take a hammer and hit yourself on the ________.” Fill in the blank. It’s invariably sound advice.

But we see where this is going immediately. There’s been another very poor jobs report, and the Journal doesn’t want it to reflect poorly on the work of Governor Walker. This could be tricky territory for the editorial writers. It’s a topic that could involve reasoning, and this is never the best terrain for them.

In our initial post of August 8, 2011, we laid out (after years of reading) the five types of editorial on offer at the Wisconsin State Journal. We didn’t make it explicit then — but we should have — that the Type 5 (Unintentionally Hilarious or Just Plain Sad) is nothing more than a Type 1 which has gone terribly wrong.

The Type 5 editorial adopts a ludicrous, counterfactual or illogical line of argument which then has the actual, unintended effect of showing that the editorial writers — had they gone to law school — would have become very, very bad lawyers.

We see this play out today. If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to read the editorial before continuing here.  It begins by referencing two different measurements — Wisconsin jobs gained/lost and Wisconsin unemployment rate. Then it asks,


Not really. Those were two different things. As policy wonk Ezra Klein noted dryly the other day, two things can go on at once.  Perhaps we could address the editorial board directly for just a moment:

Sometimes it’s helpful to have an example from another area of life. Consider the activities of TheDailyTissue canine newspaper retrieval officer, Q.

Q very much enjoys her tennis ball. She also — when she needs to sleep — very much enjoys lying in her wicker basket. These things are in no way contradictory. They’re not confusing, even when mentioned one right after the other.  It makes no sense to say, ‘What? Which is it then? Does Q like the ball or the basket?’  You see, the mental trick here (and it’s not really a trick) is to imagine that both things might be true. 

The editorial continues directly,

Get used to it. The political spin on jobs and the economy is only going to speed and sharpen as the 2012 election cycle ensues. 

Seems so! In fact, look here at this very editorial, spinning the numbers, albeit not very cleverly.  They continue

Just remember this: The monthly job numbers thrown around for political gain and pain are notoriously mixed, fluid and complicated. 

Well, maybe. But you know what would be great? It would be great if editorial pages would not deliberately create confusion. Politicians are more than happy to carry the load.  For those with the stomach for it, here’s Governor Walker himself back in August speaking with two simpletons at Fox News. (warning: 30-sec. commercial at start). The Governor takes a victory lap after favorable job statistics had come out in July, and he goes on to offer advice to the nation.

Jobs statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics do indeed fluctuate, do undergo revisions, and — like statistics of any kind — are not understood by all of us. But they’re not really a profound mystery either. They’re the best information we’ve got to work with.

State Journal disgusted by all the fools who surround them

It’s difficult for the Wisconsin State Journal to lose a battle. They’ve got barrels of ink, and the Madison.com website, plus day after day after day to grumble.

They’re still feeling sore about the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment plan which seems (for the moment at least) to be going down in flames after the City Council failed to re-approve $16 million in Tax Incremental Financing. 

Today they grumble “Another ‘only in Madison’ moment“.

“Only in Madison”?

Do the State Journal editors imagine they’re entirely surrounded by visionless fools?  Only they see The Way forward?

Honestly, it doesn’t seem that unusual that a wealthy interested party (like Fred Mohs) might file a lawsuit. We’re sure that city councils everywhere revise their budgets, that economic conditions change, and that judgments of how to spend public monies always have vocal supporters and opponents. It all seems, to us, perfectly normal. Just what you’d expect in any American city or town.

Yes, virtually everyone in Madison agrees that the existing Edgewater Hotel is dated. And obviously it’s sitting on a really beautiful waterfront location. Everyone would like something better.

The only conflict, really, is whether redevelopment deserves $16 million in public TIF subsidies, or whether that’s too much, given other needs. This is surely a matter in which reasonable people could disagree.

The State Journal needs to stop sulking. And this libel of “only in Madison” deserves a day or two of sober reflection over at the newspaper. And then an apology might be in order.

Wisconsin State Journal offers up disgraceful Sunday editorial

Today’s awkwardly titled editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal — “Farm checks to city folk highlight  excess” — is unusual. We’ll say why in a minute. The editorial hammers a farm subsidy program which (we guess) pays land owners either to plant or not plant crops on their farmland. After reading the editorial we’re left with no worthwhile understanding of why the program was created, whether it’s helping farmers or the environment or doing what it was intended to do.,, or not.

We do get that the State Journal believes it’s wasteful. And that it costs $5 billion a year.

$5 billion is nothing to sneeze at. Five billion could buy us two more hugely expensive B2 Stealth Bombers with change left over to train the pilots.  Or build 300 new schools or whatever.

But what was unusual today? Answer: a hyperlink within the online editorial which leads to an Interactive Map showing the location of every individual in Madison, Monona, and Fitchburg who gets a payment from this program. Why? What purpose does it serve to know — by name and address — who gets payments from this program?  Are we supposed to shun these neighbors at the grocery store? Drive by their houses and yell? This map is disgraceful. The State Journal should take it down, and apologize.

What’s more, the entire “argument” of this editorial is silly. “Farm” subsidies shouldn’t go to someone who isn’t a “farmer”?  It’s childish. People are getting these payments because they are land owners, not because they wear bib overalls. Is the program inefficient, ineffective, counterproductive? Those, if true, would be adult arguments. That’s not what the State Journal has given us.

We’re classifying this as a Type 5 Wisconsin State Journal editorial.

Back on August 8th we described the Type 5 as follows:

5.  The Unintentionally Hilarious (or Just Plain Sad).   The Type 5 editorial adopts a ludicrous, counterfactual or illogical line of argument which then has the actual, unintended effect of showing that the editorial writers — had they gone to law school — would have become very, very bad lawyers. Sometimes, there is no argument per se, just unconnected thoughts, sputtering or slogans. These last tend to be worrying, but the next day they’re always back to their old selves again.

We don’t find today’s editorial particularly “hilarious” or “sad”. We do find it very poorly argued. So close enough — it’s a 5.  And the map is disgraceful.

“Think Big”

Today the Wisconsin State Journal tells us “Think big to tame college costs”. Rarely has an editorial sported a dumber headline.

To combat the ever-rising cost of college, the editorial urges everybody to think big.  And then It goes on to offer a list of plainly piddling, inconsequential ideas, which must have seemed like outside-the-box thinking to the WSJ editorial board:

  • Students, take some classes on-line.
  • Don’t pick one of those “prestige” institutions.
  • Professors, put your classes on-line. (See bullet point 1 again)
  • Offer 3-year bachelor degrees! (Why not 2-year or 1-year?) (Six-week graduate degrees?)
  • Colleges, universities, eliminate unnecessary degree programs. (Sheesh, colleges, put on your thinking caps! You should’ve thought of that yourselves.)
  • And the final solution, don’t go to college!
Yes, with the help of the Wisconsin State Journal, America can now see the way forward to taming the cost of college education. Thank you, State Journal.

the low spark of the high heeled

A thrilling new standard for “leadership” is unveiled in today’s State Journal editorial praising Congressman Reid Ribble (R-Appleton): “Ribble shows leadership on debt”.

Ribble says a) he’s open to closing some tax loopholes, and b) he’s not going to re-sign Grover Norquist’s famous anti-tax pledge.

It IS a step in the right direction, a teensy-weensy baby step. You wouldn’t think it would garner an editorial 100 miles away, but it IS true that many of Ribble’s Republican colleagues are locked in a race to appear ever more rigid and foolish on the subject of taxes.  So even a spark of good sense from the Honorable Mr. Ribble is welcome.

But then the editorial ruins it all for Rep. Ribble:

…he’s still opposed to raising tax rates.

We have referred to this chart before, and will again. It is the chart that James Fallows has called The Chart That Should Accompany Every Discussion of Deficits.  It is, again, a quick lesson in how Congressman Ribble and the Wisconsin State Journal have no apparent understanding of what is causing annual federal deficits. 

Source: CBPP analysis based on Congressional Budget Office estimates. See full analysis at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3490

We need to end our wars (or impose surtaxes to pay for them), end the Bush tax cuts, and end the recession (which would temporarily increase the deficit). In year 2000 we had a balanced budget. Eight years of Bush Republicanism brought us the chart above. The country needs to undo what was done.

Wisconsin State Journal as “Ministry of Silly Walks”

Madison, Wisconsin. October 30, 2011

Most of us dread the local editorial page on Sunday, because Sunday is the paper’s big day to launch something new and dreadful. Today it was impossible to guess what was coming given the title “State should reach for two big goals“.  

Well, apparently what happened is that editorial page editor Scott Milfred went to a Downtown Rotary Club meeting where he was exposed to a speech, and he was simply gobsmacked by what he heard.

Here’s what we all need to do, according to the editorial Scott wrote. Better sit down for this. We need to set a goal for the average income in Wisconsin to be 10% higher than Minnesota’s. That’s just the first idea. The second idea is to have all of our Wisconsin eighth-graders score in the top ten globally (for math, science and reading) by year 2030. 

Great, right?  The Daily Tissue would be totally FOR that.

The editorial explains how this would work. Read this carefully. Read it over and over if it doesn’t make sense at first. 

 [the] two targets are “agnostic” politically and don’t come with prescriptions. That way, even the partisans on the left and right should be able to agree on what the goals are and monitor progress, just as football fans view the NFL standings on Monday mornings.

See? We all just agree on two goals. with no prescriptions. and then monitor progress? Could a newspaper possibly offer up a more empty and dare we say SILLY nostrum than that?

There are no “agnostic” goals that everybody just agrees on. That is why we have politics. That’s why everybody, everywhere, has politics. That’s why the ancients had politics and why our descendants (if we have any) will have politics. Different people, groups, classes, businesses, and organizations, and religions have different values and interests. Not just different, but conflicting. Is it necessary to even say this?

Amazingly even the two goals suggested in the editorial have been actively undermined by the very same editorial page in the previous months. Gov. Walker and allies have if anything lowered average income in Wisconsin. And they’re delivering big cuts to Wisconsin education across the board — grade school to technical college to university.

So what can we make of today’s WSJ editorial? We’re calling it a wonderfully weird example of the Type 5 Unintentionally Hilarious editorial.

Editorial Solves Mining Dilemma

We knew it was coming. Wisconsin State Journal reporter Ron Seely had done a 3-part series on the proposed (threatened?) iron mine near Mellen in the northernmost part of the state. The editorial page would surely comment. (Hell, they would surely approve of it.)

Today it came — a love note from the newspaper.

Allow mine with safeguards,” they whispered.

It was official. This highly controversial mine had won the heart of the Wisconsin State Journal.

You might suppose that falling in love with an iron mine 300 miles to the north could be difficult. The environmental track record for mining — let’s be honest —  is somewhere between shameful and worse. Even the economic history of mining has only mine owners as winners, never the miners, never the mining communities.

Would this ‘modern mine’ (sic) be different? Yes! they say,

It’s a grand economic opportunity, no doubt…

It’s a gamble, no doubt. Other mines have been economically disastrous for their regions, even mines in the same upper Wisconsin region.  But the editorial writers are ready to ignore all that. They simply assert: “It’s a grand economic opportunity, no doubt….” But there is doubt.

Then there are fears for wildlife and wetlands and drinking water as documented in their own 3-part report. The editorial waves ’em away:

Surely there is a way to achieve both those goals in our North Woods. Surely we are capable of creating hundreds of quality jobs in a region desperate for employment opportunities without destroying the natural resources that in many ways define that region.

But no. There is honestly no “sure” way to dig the mine and preserve what they have right now. The people of the region may ultimately want to take the gamble, but they could definitely lose Big, and for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board is opining strongly about an area of the state where they do not live, and they reach their conclusion by simply waving away parts of their own reporter’s work.

Newspaper just can’t keep its mouth shut


The Figure 5 in Gold

Charles Demuth, The Figure 5 in Gold (1928), Museum of Modern Art, New York

The definition of the “Type 5” State Journal editorial reads, in part

5.  The Unintentionally Hilarious (or Just Plain Sad).   The Type 5 editorial adopts a ludicrous, counterfactual or illogical line of argument which then has the actual, unintended effect of showing that the editorial writers — had they gone to law school — would have become very, very bad lawyers….

Today’s editorial breaks new ground.  By arguing that all of Wisconsin’s local school board notices are best publicized by printing them in local newspapers, and that boards should be legally required to do so, the WSJ foolishly involves itself in an obvious conflict of interest — both an apparent conflict of interest, and an actual conflict of interest.

Their arguments are weak, but the really salient problem is blatant, direct, financial conflict of interest. Truly weird that they blunder on into this.