Not just wrong but harmful Wrong question, wrong time

Yesterday on Super Bowl Sunday, in a fit of pique, we lambasted the Wisconsin State Journal’s editorial of the day. We may have left the impression our principal complaint was the tone-deafness of such an editorial on America’s sacred wintertime blowout festival day of foodbawl and fun…

That was part of it.

Yes, the editorial was tone-deaf, but also, we asserted, it was “wrong”.  And yet wrongness isn’t even exactly at the heart of our objection either. It’s that the message was and is harmful, and not for the first time. The State Journal has been publishing variants of this same bad advice ever since conservatives pivoted from merrily building up the national debt (the Bush II years) to suddenly weeping and rending their garments at the thought of debt accruing during the Obama years. Literally, the pivot to new talking points began the very day that Obama put his hand on the Bible and ‘W’ flew off to Houston.

Now, there is a time for a nation to address its level of debt. The time for that is when the national economy is booming. Need it be said that “booming” does not describe the current American economy? There’s still plenty of slack. We are still struggling to get back to job and wage levels that existed before the housing/financial collapse of 2007.  We have lost somewhere around 5 trillion dollars of potential economic progress by letting people, equipment, talent and potential go unused.

All that scaremongering about debt and deficit since 2007 has been harmful. To the tune of trillions. Much of the scaremongering was a conscious political strategy by Senate and Congressional Republicans intending to prevent anything good from occurring on Barack Obama’s watch. And, of course, additional hand-wringing was provided in the usual peanut galleries and echo chambers. (This may describe the State Journal editorial page. There’s no way to see inside the motivations.)

In either case, millions of people have been hurt. We don’t ever like to say, “lives were ruined…” because is any life ever truly ruined? But bad results were widespread. How do you characterize it? Does losing a job when you’re 50 years old and never really finding another job “ruin” your life? [Note: none of this is self-descriptive… we are fortunate.] Let’s just say that a LOT of lives have been damaged. It shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t have lasted as long as it has.

We should have been rebuilding roads and bridges and mass transit. We should have been putting people back to work. The recession was the time for stimulus, and when the stimulus showed itself to be inadequate – and it did show that – exactly – then it was the time for more stimulus (yes, more debt… just like in the 1930’s), not more pulling back.

But of course fiscal stimulus was blocked whenever possible by the Republican congress. For political reasons nothing good for the middle- and lower-working classes would be allowed to happen on the Obama watch.

Even things that had long been in place — automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance and food stamps — came under conservative attack. Conservatives insisted on austerity, on fiscal ‘rectitude’, on fears about debt, on angst about “debasing the currency”, on balancing the budget, on trimming the social safety net, on “reforming entitlements”, on getting the unemployed out of their “hammocks”, on “encouraging the job-creators”, and on and on… a litany of strategies and slogans that were either useless or actively harmful in a time of recession.

Regular readers of the Wisconsin State Journal will recognize how often these terrible memes were repeated and reinforced on the editorial page.  The bad memes were handed out all during the great recession, and they were handed out yet again yesterday. For the umpteenth time.

We are exhausted and frustrated with this run of incompetence. There have been multiple natural experiments in the real world comparing Keynesian and austerian policies for rescuing capitalist democracies from economic bubble-deflations. If the State Journal is going to weigh in on this kind issue, they need to study up and get right.

Super Bowl: Wisconsin State Journal fumbles again It's a humorless tradition!

It’s something of a tradition that the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page delivers a stink bomb opinion on Super Bowl Sunday, and guess what, they’ve done it again!

budweiser-clydesdale-puppyOn a day when we are all entitled to unhealthy food choices, and possibly excessive use of liquids while safely sprawled on our sofas… as we wait for heartwarming ads featuring Clydesdales and puppies, and yes, attractive spokesmodels…  the State Journal manages to cloud the moment with one of its patented tone-deaf (and wrong, but we’ll not even get into the wrongness part) editorial opinions.

Give it a rest, State Journal.

Today should be marred only by the fact that, just like us, the Packers are watching it on TV. (Well, possibly also marred later today if we lose money in a harmless but technically illegal friendly wager.)

No one needs you, Mr. Milfred, to mar the day also.

You want grump about red ink? Here’s an idea. Do it next week. Do it instead of one of those sublimely irrelevant and yet unaccountably frequent pieces about what the State Journal said 100 years ago.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Traffic is grinding to a halt as the snow continues to fall. There’s a fire in the fireplace. Try this: Have a bratwurst. Have some barbecue sauce. Have a beer for chrissake. And shut up about the friggin’ deficit for a day, because you kinda don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, and now is not the time. It’s almost time for the Clydesdales. We’ve got the Pats by one point, even though we kinda hate ’em. Now bring on the puppy. Everybody loves the puppy!

“Right-to-Work” Theater

kabuki dancer bwNo grownup in Wisconsin believes that anti-union, right-to-work legislation would be barreling ahead in our state if the governor weren’t on board for it. (Well, with the possible exception of the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board. Could these be the most gullible journalists ever?)

Gentlemen, it’s simple theater. First, in public, the gov claims he’s not for it (because of the “timing”). Second, over the gov’s *wink wink* objections, Republicans in the legislature quickly pass it, in January or February. Third act: What can the gov do, except sign it.

The State Journal editorial writers, playing dumb again, praise this little kabuki show as if it were, well, something other than a show. But there they are on stage, *wink wink* actually part of the cast.

The eternal dumbness of our media

On Sunday the Wisconsin State Journal featured a brief and mostly self-congratulatory history of itself, written by editorial page editor Scott Milfred.

What’s going on, we asked. Is it time for the annual Wisconsin Newspaper Awards? Where Wisconsin newspapers give awards to one another? But no, it’s not. It’s the State Journal celebrating. They are old — 175 years old.

Did you know that 154 years ago the State Journal endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President? Apparently they did. (Spoiler: Lincoln won.)

It goes without saying that our editorial page editor, Mr. Milfred, was not around for the Lincoln endorsement, so, personally, he gets no credit for that. But credit where credit is due… Mr. Milfred did endorse George W. Bush. Both times… the second time being just extraordinarily foolish.

paul Ryan 1Milfred retained his job, however, and even today he is turning out new nonsense such as “Make it happen, Paul Ryan” which we shall discuss below. It’s a sort of master class in “how to forget everything that’s known and imagine, instead, a UNICORN!”

The ‘Make it happen’ editorial imagines that Ryan, in his new role as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, might reshape tax policy to benefit ordinary citizens. That is hugely unlikely. Simply not plausible. In fact, we’re going to call it dumb, willfully dumb. It might be nice to imagine… sort of a momentary flight-of-fancy? But no.

Here’s the problem.

1. Paul Ryan is 44 years of age. His values are well-established. Mr. Ryan has never proposed a budget (or one of his “road maps” to a quasi-budget-framework) that wasn’t highly favorable to the richest among us and unfavorable to the many. That’s just a fact.

And his very public infatuation with Russian-American novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand should make it clear that Ryan, for whatever reason, instinctively admires the wealthy and the powerful — the “makers”. He’s not alone, of course. Veneration of the rich is a mark among Republican office holders, as both a personality trait and a general ideological stance.

Stephen King In 2012  Stephen King (yes, the author) wrote

They simply idolize the rich. Don’t ask me why; I don’t get it either, since most rich people are as boring as old, dead dog shit. The Mitch McConnells and John Boehners and Eric Cantors just can’t seem to help themselves. These guys and their right-wing supporters regard deep pockets like Christy Walton and Sheldon Adelson the way little girls regard Justin Bieber.

See? By comparison, our language at The Daily Tissue is actually quite measured. Fans of Ranting (FOR) may enjoy the whole thing from King. Not surprisingly ranting by professional writers is among the best there is.


2. Paul Ryan’s jobsite is Washington D.C. Even if he wanted to rewrite tax law to help the “ordinaries” (He doesn’t. see above)…  even if he were a good-hearted Bernie Sanders and really did want to help the ordinaries, he wouldn’t be able to.

There’s a certain formulation that says, “gub’mint doesn’t work.” But that’s not accurate. The truth is it works well for some, and not so well for others. Is this just bar room grumbling? No, there is research.

In a widely reported study, Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page compared American’s polled preferences to actual results in 1,779 instances of government policy-making. Their study covered 20 years, at the federal level, with these results:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

Gilens and Page don’t write as colorfully as Stephen King, but, of course, they’re pretty much not allowed to. Still they conclude

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Finally, it’s particularly noteworthy that Gilens and Page were looking way back at twenty years of policy-making from 1981 to 2002. Should we suppose that the federal government hasn’t grown even more attuned to the preferences of the wealthy and business elites in the last 12 years?

If you can believe that, there’s a guy from the State Journal with a unicorn to sell you.


Wisconsin State Journal endorsements

WSJ EndorsesIs it puzzling that the Wisconsin State Journal is endorsing candidates for the November election?

It is if you recall the State Journal’s multi-part editorial war against Wisconsin’s rigged voting districts. That little war — we think of it as a little jihad, but a “jihad” in the good sense, a holy crusade, well-intended — was quite clearly the best thing the State Journal editorial page crusaded for in recent memory. They even enlisted other Wisconsin newspapers as allies. Nice!

Still, it was far too timid: all they did was ask for an old-fashioned public hearing.

Asking the Republican leaders of the legislature to put aside their own interests to do the right thing was thoroughly destined to fail. And fail it did. Those self-same leaders had worked very hard and spent plenty of [taxpayer] money to accomplish the intended goal of safely-rigged voting districts, and they weren’t going to abandon that lovely self-serving project just because some editorial board(s) asked them politely to do so.

So, whadaya know? It wasn’t a real jihad. It wasn’t serious. It never escalated.

In fact, here, with these candidate endorsements, we see that the State Journal editors have lost the thread of their own thinking. The voting districts are all safely pre-allocated for either Republican or Democratic victory. (Mostly Republican, of course, because Republicans drew the districts.) It’s too late to jump in with endorsements. It honestly makes no sense.

It would make more sense for the Wisconsin State Journal to publish, in advance, the easily-predicted voting results based on the gerrymandered districts. Instead they’re endorsing general election candidates as if their endorsements matter. They don’t.


State Journal criticizes Republicans? No weasel words?

Over the weekend a teensy-tiny little thing happened in the Wisconsin State Journal. They published an editorial criticizing Wisconsin Republicans, namely the gov and his loyal minions majorities in the legislature.


The thing is, there was no fuzzy language, no ambiguity, no blaming ill-defined “state leaders” or “state gubmint” in general. No random speculation that Democrats, too, had they been in charge, would have done the same. No, they just said “Republicans”, who are, after all, undeniably in control of every branch of our state government.

It’s a tiny thing. (Yes, very tiny.) But it’s unusual (and refreshing) to see the State Journal editorial board just say the obvious — their pals are screwing up.  As we all know, it’s hard for them to criticize Republicans without some fig leaf of fuzziness or both-siderism to obscure and soften the point.

Seriously, this is a newspaper that somehow (hard to believe but true) blamed “Congress and all of Washington” for the dangerous and ill-advised debt-ceiling fiascoes of 2013 which were, of course, motivated not by “Congress and all of Washington” in general, but specifically by the Tea Partying zealots of the Republican House. Somehow the State Journal editorial board was careful never to assign the blame where it actually belonged. It was actually a bizarre pattern of misinforming, performed over and over as we noted repeatedly.

So, are we giving them too much credit for one tiny event on Sunday? Well, sure. Almost certainly. But we try to encourage even small progress when we can.


That $700,000 from Gogebic

Jim Rowan writing at The Political Environment doesn’t normally gripe about the state’s newspapers. Not the way we do. But he does today.

He’s waiting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to use its editorial page to say something about that secret $700,000 donation from Gogebic mining. Thus far, on the editorial page, the Milwaukee paper has said not a word.

And Rowan correctly criticizes the Wisconsin State Journal for delivering a weak ‘they’re-all-doing it’ editorial opposing secret money in politics, in general.

Boo to the State Journal for insulting readers and voters with false conflation that helps give Walker – – whom the paper endorsed in 2010 – – a pass

Does Rowan know the Wisconsin State Journal the way we do? (actually? of course) But nothing else could be expected. Wisconsin Republicans can do anything they want. It doesn’t need to make sense. It doesn’t need to match any previous or current stance. It doesn’t need to pass any “smell test”. No matter how odious their actions, the worst that Wisconsin Republicans can expect from the State Journal is a general sermon blaming everyone (and thus no one) and urging everyone to be better.

drinking gameYes, it’s boring. And predictable. And completely worthless. Although it does form the basis for our famous Wisconsin State Journal editorial drinkin’ game

 “…the drinking game requires no actual facts or actual journalism. It simply requires the WSJ editorial board to do what it obsessively does. They apparently cannot help themselves.” 

Remember to always read responsibly


Wisconsin State Journal gets gay!

Wisconsin State Journal, June 8, 2014The Wisconsin State Journal offers a nice editorial celebrating the sudden ability of same-sex partners to marry in Wisconsin. The news pages, too, had extensive and upbeat coverage of couples seizing the moment to marry, including this really heart-warming photo of Todd Kinsman and Ravi Manghnani outside the Madison City-County Building. And, of course, other pictures…

So, way to go, Wisconsin State Journal.

And, while we’re at it, let’s jump into the Way Back Machine and revisit the State Journal’s editorial stance eight years ago. Hey, that too was pretty good. In 2006, when conservatives had gleefully glommed onto “traditional” marriage as another cynically exploitable wedge issue, the State Journal actually got it right. In a strong editorial they argued against amending the Wisconsin constitution to prohibit same sex marriage.

Of course, that argument was lost later that year, as the people of Wisconsin approved the constitutional amendment (59%-41%) banning same-sex marriage. (Or even anything like it, no matter what it was called.)

That was a day for shame and regret. A solid majority of Wisconsinites voted to harm a harmless minority of fellow citizens. We might just as well have voted that Mormons shouldn’t marry, or left-handers. It was simple prejudice, inflamed by [some] preachers and [some] political interests. And now eight years later the fever is breaking.

But let’s not feel too good about this yet. The celebration has broken out only because of a court ruling, and by a federal judge, appointed by Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile our state remains entirely under the control of people who do not blink when they need to harm the harmless for their own political purposes. Look what they’ve done refusing Medicaid for the poor. Look what they did to teachers. Look what they did to voters (well, you know, “those” voters). Wisconsin’s Attorney General remains committed to wasting our money defending this deeply regrettable worse than pointless clause in our constitution.

The Wisconsin State Journal earned the right to crow a little about forbidden marriages breaking out now in Wisconsin. They earned the right when they spoke out in 2006. We’d love to say that sort of thing more often.

Now they didn’t manage to name the bad guys in this saga. That’s not the way we’d have played it. But just looking forward is OK for a day. And they get completely carried away when they say

Gay marriage isn’t going away because the public is committed to fairness.

You’d hope. But the public isn’t “committed to fairness” in any permanent way. It wasn’t so committed in 2006, and it remains divided. See the May 21st Marquette Law School Poll where support for gay marriage varies by which set of questions is posed (i.e., posed to the same people). We’d like to think this battle for progress is over. It seems, however, that nothing is ever really over.


This used to be frowned upon

We can’t comment on all that’s gone wrong with Madison’s one remaining daily newspaper, but the weird and inconsistent editorial page can still provoke us, once in a while, to write something.

Before we get to griping, however, let’s applaud (yet again) the State Journal’s continuing efforts to get Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature to hold just a simple darn hearing on fair voting districts. That hearing won’t happen, of course, because… well, look at who the Republicans are. But onward to the latest gripe.

On Tuesday the Wisconsin State Journal editorialized for cuts in food stamps. Holy mother of God… Need it be said? This kind of un-does any credit they were accruing from their fair redistricting editorials.

Call us old-fashioned but we believe everybody should have food to eat. Time was, everybody believed that. Or if they didn’t, they felt constrained to keep it to themselves. Especially during Christmas season.

So it’s been amazing to see the Republican Party roll out their attack on food stamps. Doubtless there’s some cohort of bloodless Scrooges who are on board for bashing the hungry, but are there really that many of them? And now the State Journal?

Hating the poor and the hungry used to be frowned upon. Saying “screw the hungry” wasn’t illegal, but it was definitely frowned upon. All the major religions were agreed on that point at least. This kept society just a little more decent. Less vicious. Now that’s changing. Republicans have decided to double-down on Mitt Romney’s 47% gaffe. Fuck the poor. Fuck the hungry. It’s the latest new song in the GOP hymnal, and we were surprised to see the State Journal pick up the melody so quickly.

Hymn #206 — All Praise the Makers, Forget the Takers. Was that song always in the hymnal, lurking, waiting to be discovered and sung aloud? We’d never noticed it until lately. Things sure do change.

Once upon a time, Americans would never resort to torture. It was part of our shared American brand, and then suddenly we learned that we were, in fact, performing systematic acts of torture, worldwide. Soon, all the Republican candidates for President were on stage endorsing torture. None of them demurred. The old rules were out. Torture was in, under a new name. The State Journal never said peep.

That’s the way it works. One day torture is frowned upon. Slamming the poor with their food stamps is looked upon poorly. Then later, if the signal comes, it can all change before you know it.

Darlings, we don’t think this is going to work

Criminy, two separate Wisconsin State Journal editorials in one week! Two editorials about rigged voting districts first on Sunday and then on Wednesday (paywall, believe it or not).

A sensible argument

The State Journal has rarely if ever shown such determination on an issue, so it’s especially nice that this time they’re on the right side of it. We’ve been delighted from the start. They have now made this same, sensible and popular argument in 6 or 7 recent editorials. (We’re losing count! It’s an editorial barrage!)


But the thing is, we just don’t think sensible arguments are gonna work here. Sure, the Iowa model of redistricting by independent, technocratic, non-partisan methods would surely be better for the public. It would produce more competitive elections. We’d probably get more representative, uh, “representatives“. Better governance! Better democracy! It would even save money.

But is that what our current crop of elected officials want? Not really. In fact, not at all.

Does Assembly Leader Robin Voss (R-Rochester) want greater difficulty getting himself elected, and re-elected? Does Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald want more and better opposition in Senate campaigns? No, of course not. That was the whole point of rigging the voting districts.

  • That’s also why they went straight to work implementing new, shall we say, “Southern style”, voting restrictions. The wrong citizens were getting to the polls.
  • That’s why they took a straight razor to the public sector unions.
  • That’s why they’re proposing higher limits for wealthy campaign contributors and less public information about who’s giving.

In short it is very, very clear that Wisconsin Republicans are helping themselves, at the expense of the voting public. They clearly thought about it, and then acted. Quite decisively.

Now the State Journal hasn’t opposed most of these anti-citizen, anti-voter initiatives, but it’s great to see them oppose at least one of them (the rigged voting districts). Good luck to you, State Journal, and to all of us. We love these little flashes of idealism on your editorial page.

But darlings, we really doubt that well-intentioned pleading is going to work.