Addendum & clarification

One more thing, just to be clear.

When we objected in our previous post to the Wisconsin State Journal blaming “Congress” and/or “all of Washington” for the debt-ceiling fiasco, we took that language from the State Journal itself. (From their print edition.) Only readers of the print edition would have seen this sub-headline:Who's to blame 3

So, reading just the headlines, which many readers do, the Wisconsin State Journal says the government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis were orchestrated by, well, everybody in Washington. It was everybody’s fault. Voters can blame “all of Washington”. Could there be anything more nakedly misleading?

We’ve said it before. Here it is again. The State Journal editorial board just cannot criticize their beloved Republicans without simultaneously pointing the finger at others, even in cases where it’s not true. There’s a name for this, but it isn’t “journalism”.

Don’t ask ’em to explain this sub-headline, because they won’t, and they can’t. Do they understand how damaging this to their own credibility?

The irony of all this, no doubt lost on the editorial board, is that it all takes place under their main headline, “Broken trust won’t be easy to win back”.

Broken trust won't be easy to win back

The Wisconsin State Journal whiffs on easy editorial

We’ve written before about what happens with the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board when they try to criticize their beloved Republicans. It’s just so hard for them. They cannot permit themselves to say something ugly about the R’s unless they also pair it with something ugly about the D’s. The latter can be imaginary if need be.

(If it’s late in the day, see the Editorial Board Drinking Game.)

Frequently, of course, there really is something bad to say about the D’s. But when there isn’t, the editorial board simply asserts that both sides are to blame. It’s a practice that makes these three old white guys look biased and ridiculous, but apparently they cannot help themselves. They’re lighting their own pants on fire. Sunday’s editorial about the debt-ceiling showdown was another case in point.

It begins

The Republicans in Congress own most of the blame for Washington’s latest dysfunction.

“Most” of the blame? That’s the very first sentence???

Toles - GOP burns its own brandActually: It was Republicans, and Republicans alone, who shut down the government, who threatened the world economy, who might do it again. ‘Tweren’t the D’s. ‘Twere the R’s. Wasn’t “mostly” the R’s. Wasn’t “Congress”. Wasn’t all of “Washington”. It was the R’s, the Republicans.

Mr. Johnston, Mr. Smalley, Mr. Milfred, you got it wrong. And it was so, so easy, it’s amazing you could get it wrong. Well, maybe not “amazing” but “outrageous”, because you’ve making this identical blunder ever since the first debt-ceiling showdown (2011).

Gentlemen, please surrender your press credentials at the nearest J-School, and fergawdsakes remove that “Wisconsin’s independent voice” thing from your editorial page masthead. Thank you.

Wisconsin State Journal flubs up debt-ceiling discussion AGAIN

A short while back we recalled the very poor work of the Wisconsin State Journal as it discussed the previous debt-ceiling “crisis” two years ago. We said in part

In it, they managed to portray the whole farce — not as extortion by the GOP’s newest, most unhinged, most extremist wing, which it was — but rather as a battle between the extremes of both parties, which it wasn’t. How does a board of so-called “journalists” ever wash away the embarrassment…?

Now they’re at it again. And they’ve bungled it, again. And in exactly the same way. They simply cannot say that Republicans — indeed about 90 Tea Party House Republicans — are to blame.

GOP AngryThe Tea Partiers are playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship, and Republican House Speaker Boehner is so far allowing them to do so. And it’s all based on the outlandish belief that they, as a minority, in one branch of government, should dictate. That cannot — cannot — be allowed.

But how does the Wisconsin State Journal describe it?

Congress should stop playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States.

It’s “Congress“? It’s not Tea Party Republicans in the House? It’s just everybody in Congress? “Congress” needs to stop playing games?

We suppose it’s possible — if you stick your head way, way up, uh, somewhere — to call carjacking a “dispute over who should drive,” but it certainly wouldn’t be useful journalism. It would be going way out of one’s way to obscure the truth.

C’mon, State Journal editorial board. This was unacceptable.

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial drinkin’ game

Jameson WhiskeyOver at our place, we play a particular drinkin’ game by reading a Wisconsin State Journal editorial. Sometimes it goes nowhere. But other times, the editorial board will sort of criticize their beloved Republicans, and then the game is on. Will there be a matching swipe at Democrats? Are ya kidding? As soon as we find the matching swipe (and we will, it’s never not there) it’s time for everyone to shout, “Booyah Casserole!” and down a shot of Jameson.

Here’s an example. It’s actually a mostly good editorial — Partisan maps share blame for shutdown.  True enough. Gerrymandered voting districts really do help to explain why the GOP has gotten increasingly out of touch with the broad range of voters.

But then the editorialists can’t help themselves. In order to “balance” a criticism of their beloved GOP, they need an equal-and-also jab at Democrats, or in this case, “progressives”:

Fixing the process in Wisconsin won’t magically tame the tea party in Washington or turn progressives into pragmatists.

Bingo, there it is. Everybody take a drink.

Of course, in reality, we have no idea what makes progressives un-pragmatic. Who are they talking about? What are they talking about? They don’t explain. It’s just a quick insult, which always needs to be done. For faux balance? Is it an obsessive-compulsive symptom? Dunno, but it’s the reliable basis of the WSJ Editorial Drinking Game!

We should leave it at that, but we’ve got a couple of minutes to burn, so let’s get serious. The State Journal’s idea that progressives need to be more “pragmatic” has, let’s say, no particular basis. If they can defend the idea, we’d love to hear it. Thus far we believe it to be just an insult without basis.

Consider the debate over what everyone now calls “Obamacare.”  Obamacare is not what most progressives wanted. They would surely have preferred a single-payer insurance plan, like the well-regarded systems in other western democracies –. Universal coverage?  Lower costs? Better outcomes? — that would’ve been the progressive dream proposal.

But progressives were assured that single-payer could only be a pipe dream in the current American context. In order to get the existing private health insurers on board, the private health insurance industry would need to endure and be incentivized with more citizen/customers able to buy their private insurance. And practically speaking, that was probably true. Yes, the new plan would be pretty complicated, and it wouldn’t succeed in getting everyone covered, but it would be a good step forward, progressives were told. And progressives said OK. They supported the complicated compromise.

It was pure pragmatism. Now, compare that if you like to what’s going on in the Republican/Tea Party.


Detail from “One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved II (No. 6),” a painting purchased and altered by Jake and Dinos Chapman. JPEG image appropriated and further altered by J.

What this shows is that 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. As we said, this was an example of a basically good editorial. It didn’t need the ritual insulting of the enemies. The editorial didn’t become stronger through the ritual insulting. The 3 members of the editorial board didn’t secure absolution through the ritual. It’s just something, seemingly rooted in the 3 men’s psychologies, that they need to do.


The only truly serious way to get a politician’s attention

This week The Cap Times published an editorial headlined, If J.B. Van Hollen doesn’t change course, he needs to go. That’s exactly right on the legal issue — Wisconsin politicians can’t flout the open records law because they’re wink, wink, “in session”… an amazingly dumb, new, legal theory from Attorney General Van Hollen. And it’s also exactly right on the justifiable election time consequences. He’ll need to go.

Seriously, that’s the way it works, or is supposed to work, in a representative democracy. If it’s a big-deal issue, either you get it right, or we start working to defeat you.

Now this makes us think of the recent unusually GOOD editorial campaign in the Wisconsin State Journal against gerrymandering. We predicted it would almost certainly fail, even though it was asking for just a little teensy foot in the door to good government. We predicted it would fail, because the levers of power in the state capitol are wielded by, well let’s just say it, sorry assholes driven by self-interest. Ouch! Such language. True, however.

Now, what’s supposed to happen to sorry assholes in public office — when we clearly see who they are, not always clear at first — is, we vote ’em out. So here comes the moment of truth for the Wisconsin State Journal. Will their unusually good campaign against gerrymandering continue? They’ve made two, nice, strong Sunday punches so far, and equally important, they’ve been coordinating with other Wisconsin newspapers.

But will it last? Will it continue? Will there be a third round, and a fourth? And if that doesn’t work, (and it won’t), will the State Journal do what the Cap Times did this week so easily and naturally? Will the State Journal call for removing the road-blocking Republican leaders?

Debt Ceiling Fun Party

daffy duckSoon we’ll all be treated to another “debt-ceiling” showdown. There is nothing in our national politics more silly or contrived or cynical or stupid than the idea that the U.S. Congress should decide to renege on its own debts, downgrade its own credit worthiness, and raise its own future borrowing costs. Wait, did we say “its own” borrowing costs? We mean “our” borrowing costs. Thanks, know-nothing wing of the party of wealth! Thanks for holding us hostage. When it comes to lunatic lawmakers, you rock! Your work on climate change has been, well, out of this world! And your efforts to strangle the economic recovery have been outstanding. And who can hate everything that Obama does the way you do? No one! But this hostage taking should cement your legacy forever. You guys rock.

The last time this same “crisis” was forced into being, the Wisconsin State Journal bungled its response, and bungled it memorably. Perhaps you recall. Yes, they were exasperated, so that was fine, but then they transformed it into one of their most thoroughly dumb and dishonest editorials in memory, and our memory for this sort of thing is pretty good.

In it, they managed to portray the whole farce — not as extortion by the GOP’s newest, most unhinged, most extremist wing, which it was — but rather as a battle between the extremes of both parties, which it wasn’t. How does a board of so-called “journalists” ever wash away the embarrassment of publishing this:

The ideologically-driven progressives on the far left and the rigid tea party crowd on the far right seem equally entrenched against building consensus around workable solutions.

But at some point, the relentless finger-pointing and blaming of “the other side” needs to stop so America’s very real and complicated problems can be addressed in meaningful ways.

What amazing and dishonest tripe. The crisis had been manufactured entirely by one side, indeed by one faction within that one side.

It’s well known that the State Journal editorial board has an extremely difficult time criticizing Republicans. In order to publish any sort of criticism, they must first employ the magic juju words: Democrats. just. as. bad. Of course, sometimes the Democrats ARE just as bad. But sometimes they’re not. Responsible commentary distinguishes between these times. And in the last debt-ceiling farce, the Dems were not to blame. The Republicans were acting like unsupervised 7th graders. Sorry, 7th graders… that was undeserved. Let’s say kindergarteners. Well, that’s wrong, too. The Republicans were behaving very badly. Let’s just leave it at that.

Now we’re going to re-live the whole farce again. The lunatic fringe of the right has spent so much time with Fox News and Limbaugh and others that many of them are actually convinced that the new healthcare law is apocalyptic, despite the fact that the healthcare law models the 20-year-old ideas of the conservative Heritage Foundation. How does this rightwing fringe keep getting weirder and weirder?

We can’t help feeling this whole mess has been aided by the willingness of far too many working journalists to soften what is clearly going on, and for the opinion arms of journalism to treat seriously what is just unprecedentedly stupid. Obviously, the role of the Wisconsin State Journal, by itself, is insignificant in this nation-sized mess. But, of course, they weren’t alone and they never are.

It seems more and more likely our local scribes will have another chance to discuss this. Will they do better this time around?

Dear Wisconsin State Journal: Please stop with the “dream scenes”

When we saw the headline for Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal editorial — “Three smart steps to help curb climate change” — we thought we’d have a chance to say something nice… which we really DO like to do. “Lower carbon emissions” has been on their “2013 Editorial Board Agenda”, so we’ve been waiting, patiently. And this effort, for the WSJ, was sort of good! They urge 1) raising the gas tax, 2) more money for clean energy R&D, and 3) all of us should waste less energy.

Good for you, WSJ editorial board!

Good for you, WSJ editorial board; those are three good suggestions for curbing climate change.

But wait. Something’s not right… what is it? Oh, yes, of course, only the third suggestion (which is up to individuals) could plausibly happen. In fact, it is happening; many of us are wasting less energy in our daily lives. But the first two — the bigger two — require government action, and we have a federal government that’s unable to act on almost anything. Climate change is a prime example.

Toles - GOP Blocking Tactics

Republican lawmakers have painted themselves into a corner where they can’t ever raise a tax, no matter the reason, because the moment they do, a swarm of well-financed, far-right, anti-tax groups like the Club for Growth will begin working to replace them from office with candidates even more rigidly inflexible and doctrinaire. That’s today’s Grand Old Party. Isn’t it grand?

And then, to make things even worse, most Republican lawmakers are afraid to admit that climate change is real, or that humans are to blame, or that it’s a necessarily a bad thing even if it is occurring…. Some of them figure maybe it’s good thing! Ain’t it grand? We’ve got one our major parties marching ever backward and to the right, singing from a hymnal of dangerous, deliberate, and blind nonsense. Is it likely they’ll act, or be influenced in any way, by the State Journal’s three suggestions? Of course not. They will block any such effort.

Now, does the State Journal know this? Well, surely they must, on account of being Journalists… or because of following the news generally. Well, for any number of reasons, really. So, then, to what degree should we think of this latest Sunday editorial as serious work?

Well, suppose they had urged NASA to save immense amounts of time and money by powering their space vehicles with dilithium crystals, like on Star Trek. Now, dilithium crystals don’t exist (or not yet, except in science fiction). A  call to use these crystals might sound good at first, especially to non-chemists — hell, dilithium crystals, yeah! — but it cannot happen (in reality). We’re not saying the State Journal called for fictional crystals, just that they called for Congress to raise the gas tax. It’s just an analogy but it’s pretty close.

In a sense, it’s a “fantastic” editorial

Always remember to prepare yourself (rubber gloves and a clothes-pin) before glancing at the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page. The thing is, they’re not always wrong (who could be?), but when they’re wrong, they can seem to be writing from another planet where important pieces of news haven’t yet arrived.

Consider this one, on the subject of Obamacare. This baleful effort posits that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) ain’t perfect (true enough). So what stands in the way of improving it? For the State Journal, the answer is always the same. It’s those two political parties. Both of ’em, equally. Why don’t they meet somewhere in the “sensible center”™?

Some Republicans and Democrats are digging in for a political standoff…

The 173-member House Republican Study Committee is committed to repeal of Obamacare, disdaining the idea of fixing it. Meanwhile, Democratic rhetoric focuses on defending Obamacare against all criticism…

Good grief. What would it mean to work together here? Where would discussion begin? The GOP (as the editorial noted) is demanding outright repeal of the whole hard-won thing. It’s really nonsense to suggest that the Republicans will discuss tweaking the ACA to produce actual improvements. All the evidence is that they want it to go down in flames.

House Republicans have now voted 40 times to abolish/defund the ACA. Once or twice might have been semi-normal symbolism, a bit of political grandstanding, but at 40 times — each time guaranteed, in advance, to be futile — it’s become a kind of bizarre and repetitive ritual performance art. This is a party with an overabundance of oddballs and zealots.

Hatred for the ACA is now a standard doctrine within the GOP. Gov. Romney promised he would ‘End Obamacare’ (on his first day in office!) and he really did need to make that promise in order to win nomination, even though Obamacare looks a heck of a lot like Romneycare in Massachusetts. In fact, Obamacare looks a lot like ideas that used to come out of the Heritage Foundation. Still, the Republicans now just hate, hate, hate it. A kind of inchoate rage boils within the Republican Party about this, so the very last thing they want to do is sit down and discuss improvements.

They’re threatening government shutdown.

They’re offering crazy-talk about forcing another downgrade of US debt unless President Obama weirdly agrees to somehow end/kill/renounce it (headline: “Obama renounces Obamacare”?). As Politico warns, one of these times, the Money wing of the party may not be able to overrule the Tea Party wing.

There has always been a lunatic fringe in our politics, and they do no great harm as long as they remain a “fringe”, but now they compose an important wing of the GOP. The same thing has not occurred in the Democratic Party. It’s time for the State Journal to notice. If the State Journal could just do that, it would work in their favor, and everybody’s, really.