Friday, October 31, 2008

Bush admin to check nation's oil one last time

I'm told that in the sport of wrestling, there's a colorful bit of slang that refers to a rather, uh, interesting move - an "oil check" - wherein one competitor gets a little friendly with the other competitor's rear end. It's meant to startle and distract them enough that the perpetrator can get a leg up in the match.

So when I read this Washington Post article detailing the Bush administration's last minute push to pass a whole slew of really terrible deregulatory legislation, I couldn't help but feel like they were trying to oil check the whole nation.

We've all been learning the harsh lesson of what happens when you deregulate the economy (some of us already knew what would happen, but the warnings went unheeded by those in power). How, then, can we justify ignoring those lessons completely when it comes to industry and the environment?

Here are just a few of the things the Bush admin is trying to do:
...lift a requirement that environmental impact statements be prepared for certain fisheries-management decisions and...give review authority to regional councils dominated by commercial and recreational fishing interests.


...allow current emissions at a power plant to match the highest levels produced by that plant, overturning a rule that more strictly limits such emission increases. According to the EPA's estimate, it would allow millions of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, worsening global warming.

A related regulation would ease limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants near national parks.

A third rule would allow increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories and other industrial plants with complex manufacturing operations.

These are all, according to White House spokesman Tony Fratto, "well reasoned and are being considered with the best interests of the nation in mind."

You'll understand, I hope, if I utterly and completely distrust you, Tony. Unless, of course, what you mean by "best interests of the nation" is "best interests of industries with enough money." Then I'd believe you were telling the truth.

I have to give points to the Bush administration for sheer ambition. They've already done a mighty fine job of fucking things up pretty royally for the country and the world, but even now, just a couple of months before the end of Bush's term, they're still doing their damndest to continue with the raping and pillaging.

I'd say we could just wait and hope for an Obama presidency that would work to overturn all of this nonsense, but the problem is that re-implementing regulations is much, much more difficult than stripping them away.

Afterall, it's always harder to do the right thing.

So start putting some pressure on your elected officials, reminding them that there's more than just the election to worry about just now and that they need to oppose this shit with all their might. Unless they want that oil check, of course.

UPDATE: Oh this just gets better and better. Want. To punch. Something.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Van Hollen can't get his story straight

First, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen claimed that "There was no discussion with anybody involved in leadership with the Republican Party (or the McCain Campaign) about this lawsuit before it was brought." Then he said he had "no reason to believe” any of his aides discussed the case with the GOP or the McCain campaign.

This was all back in September, but maybe being on the losing end of a lawsuit has jogged his memory. On Oct. 26, Van Hollen was interviewed for a story on CNN, and when asked whether or not lawyers from the GOP had a discussion in his office the week before he filed the suit, he replied that "I understand that's true." When then pressed if he'd been asked by those lawyers to file the suit, he said "No. They may have asked lawyers in my office to file the lawsuit."

That's a bit of a different story than he was first telling when the whole thing came up back in September.

If there is an appeal of the ruling in this case, I would ask and hope that those handling it take a serious look at this man's various and contradictory statements. There's something seriously amiss when our Attorney General keeps changing his story about whether or not partisan politics had any influence over something as important as election law.

See the interview here (scroll down).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Living vicariously through CA and FL

On November 4th, citizens in both California and Florida will head to the polls not just to voice their preference for president, but also to help decide whether their states will write discrimination into their constitutions by banning gay marriage.

In California, this comes just seven months after the state's supreme court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage and all its legal benefits to same-sex couples. Outraged that the whole "equal rights under the law" thing was actually being upheld, opponents of gay marriage rallied and put Proposition 8 onto the November ballot. Proposition 8, as I'm sure most of you already know, would re-ban homosexual couples from marrying and annul all of the same-sex marriages that have already taken place.
ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal Impact: Over next few years, potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, likely little fiscal impact on state and local governments.
Down in Florida, a similar ballot measure will be voted on come Nov. 4th - and it's eerily reminiscent of the one Wisconsin voted into law back in 2006. Though gay marriage is already illegal in Florida, Amendment 2 would "enshrine the prohibition in the Florida Constitution, making it nearly impossible for a judge to overturn." It would likely apply to domestic partnerships as well, which effects both straight and gay couples.

I still don't understand why some folks are so hell-bent on writing discrimination into the law. But America has spent every day since its inception fighting to make good on the original promises of the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. I guess, then, I shouldn't be surprised that the struggle continues, but since I'm an idealist at heart, it still makes me sad.

Take, for example, one of my favorite bands, the Ditty Bops. The dynamic duo at the band's center, Amanda Barrett and Abby DeWald, have been a couple for ten years and were just recently finally able to get married (they live in California). Now, I want you to watch this video and tell me why you want to strip these two of their rights and how on earth you could possibly disapprove of their relationship.

But you know what? It shouldn't matter whether or not they're the most adorable and talented couple ever (because they pretty much are), because no one seems to have as much of a problem with the many perfectly wacky straight folks who get married every day.

Because it shouldn't matter.

If two consenting, not immediately related to one another adults wish to enter into a legally binding relationship, with all of the federal benefits it entails, then it should absolutely be their right to do so. You don't get to decide for them. Period.

Unfortunately, a narrow majority of my fellow Wisconsinites were misguided enough to pass our blight of an amendment to do just that. And so I am left to fervently hope that California especially and Florida, too, do better.

If you live in either of those states, please, vote no. Donate money. Talk to your friends and neighbors who might disagree and be thinking of voting yes, and do so with compassion and logic. The struggle continues.

Thank goodness

The economy is in crisis, unemployment is on the rise, we're at war in two countries (and occasionally bombing a few others as well), there's a presidential election coming up, our environment needs some serious TLC, massive amounts of people are losing their homes, and that hand-holding sea otter just died.

And yet, our dutiful U.S. Senators have found time to kick up a fuss over a perceived lack of NFL games being shown to the teams' home towns.
Several members of the U.S. Senate said the National Football League is not making enough football games available on free television for local fans.

The NFL has said that it provides free television broadcasts in the home cities of competing teams.

But the senators have written a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying the NFL is too narrowly interpreting what constitutes a home city.

For example, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said the NFL does not consider the western Pennsylvania town of Johnstown to be part of the home market of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The senators are asking the NFL to reconsider its policy. A message left with the NFL was not immediately returned.
Gosh, I feel so well represented by the Senate, I could just spit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The good news for Oct. 28, 2008

There's a lot going on in the world that doesn't have much of anything to do with the impending U.S. elections. Some of this news is good, some not. All of it, I think, is worthwhile reading.

Still, be sure to get yourself educated and go vote next Tuesday. Seriously. If you don't and we meet in person, I can't be held responsible if my foot decides to kick you in the shins.

  • [Washington Post] Rwanda now boasts the first female majority in the world for their Parliament. They've also been working hard since the genocide of the mid 90's to establish gender equality in the country. This is good stuff.
  • [Glen Greenwald] So apparently an active U.S. Army unit has been assigned to NorthCom (that would be right here in the United States), and this is the first time that's ever been done. Because, y'know, there are strict Constitutional prohibitions against our standing army being assigned to domestic law enforcement duties. The ACLU, thankfully if unsurprisingly, is pressing the government for imformation about this potentially illegal move.
  • [Stereohyped] I'm not sure who's behind this really poorly done and obviously fake campaign mailer, but it's both stupid and a fine example of the racist attitudes still held by far too many folks, even right here in Wisconsin.
  • [Cracked] Five presidential elections even dumber than this one. Didn't think it was possible!

Despite public opinion, bus fares likely to go up

The Capital Times is reporting that, despite overwhelming public sentiment against the move, the city will likely increase bus fares when the final budget is passed.

I still don't think this is a good idea, and suspect that the increased fare may lower ridership or make it static enough so as to negate any financial benefit from the rate hike.

What I'm still in the process of finding out, too, is if the city currently has their fuel prices locked in, and if so, what that number is. In the past, they've been able to lock in at rates lower than the state average, saving them a good chunk of change. If that's still the case, then all this talk of the rate hike being related to higher fuel costs seems a bit dubious. That's not to say that the overall upward trend in prices isn't hurting them at all, but I'm skeptical of their claims that it's one of the main reasons for the increase. It doesn't help that offsetting fuel prices seems to be at the bottom of the list of things they'll do with the revenue.

I don't doubt that they're hurting. Everyone is. But I wonder if there are ways to shift the burden around so that it has less impact on essential services like mass transit. A few alders even made proposals that might have helped, but they were all rejected by the city's financial committee.

Presumably these are all people with a far better grasp on economics and the city/metro budget than I, but I can't help but wonder...and remain opposed to the rate hike.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Peds v. cars v. cyclists

What is it about the subject of vehicle-cyclist-pedestrian interactions that engenders so much anger in people? A recent Capital Times article dealing with the issue sparked a whole slew of comments, most pointing fingers at either inconsiderate drivers, bikers, or pedestrians. The resentment on all sides was palpable. And this certainly isn't unique to that article. I've come across it countless times whenever the subject comes up.

Because, y'know, it's never your fault. It's always the pedestrian who doesn't look before they cross the street, or the biker who runs a red light, or the driver who tries to run you down.

The fact of the matter is, I think, that all of us have the capacity to be the asshole--and all of us likely have been, at one time or another. And simply claiming that one or the other party is completely at fault for all the trouble on the road is wrong, and completely misses the bigger picture.

Bikers are, by law, supposed to act and be treated as fellow vehicles on the road. You ride with traffic, stop at stop lights and signs, signal your turns, and kit yourself out in the appropriate safety gear (helmet, lights, etc.). Not all bikers do this, however, and they're the ones who typically inspire the most hatred in drivers. Thing is, plenty of law-abiding bikers are still finding themselves at the receiving end of motorist's bile, simply for daring to share the streets with them. And even those drivers with nothing against bikers are sometimes prone to not paying enough attention. Heck, I'm an avid cyclist and I'm still sometimes times guilty of this when I'm in my car.

And pedestrians--especially, for whatever reasons, the students downtown--can be prone to wandering out into the street without so much as glancing up from their ipods. I don't know what these folks were taught as children, but apparently they missed the "look both ways" lecture.

I understand the frustration felt by all parties, as I've been all parties at one time or another. I think most of us have. But somehow, we seem prone to forgetting what it's like to be the cyclist when we're driving, or the driver when we're walking, etc. We're quick to anger at the slightest inconvenience, we zone out and don't pay enough attention to our surroundings, we let a sense of entitlement creep into our heads--and the results are often dangerous and tragic.

Simply put: we all need to suck it up and take responsibility for ourselves and the people with whom we share the city. Bikers need to strap on a helmet and obey the traffic laws. Pedestrians need to actually pay attention to their surroundings. Drivers need to remember that they're not the only ones on the road, calm down, and pay attention.

Because it's not just one party or the others responsibility to make our streets safer--it's all of ours. So put down the cell phone. We'll all be better off for it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Aporia CD release party!

It's almost time! Provided my journey to and from Indiana tomorrow to retrieve my poor minivan goes well, I'll be saddling up to play for two bands come Sunday night at the Aporia CD release party. You should come!

Here's the lowdown:

After a long hiatus, Aporia (the band I've been singing and playing drums in for the past number of years) is officially dusting off the cobwebs, releasing a new album, and gearing up to ROCK YOUR SOCKS OFF! Oh yes, don't doubt us for a second. We mean business, yo - ROCK business.

Ahem, anyway...we'll be playing a spectacular, be-costumed show to celebrate the release of said album - all with the help of some fabulous guests!


First up! THE SHABELLES - (who I just so happen to play drums for as well)
Second up! FERMATA - (who are fantabulous)

The whole thing will kick off at 7:00pm at the Frequency (121 W. Main St., where the Slipper Club used to be), and fill your soul with so much rad that you'll probably pop. Don't sue us if you do, though, because our lawyers are made entirely of crystal, and can shoot lasers out of their eyeballs. Seriously.

$5 cover, 21+.



The band will choose their favorite costume in the audience and the winner will get a free copy of the new album! How rad is that? So come dressed as your best zombie, witch, Frankenstein's monster, or Sarah Palin and try for your shot at glory!


The ever delightful and surly Irma & DeeDee will be hassling and entertaining the audience between sets, and probably harassing you about buying our new CD, because they're good like that. Bribe them with a bottle of 'tussin, and you might even get a little sugar outta the deal.

See you there?!

P.S. Isthmus Daily Page was kind enough to profile one of the "singles" off our new album, and you can read about it and download a copy of it here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You stay classy, Republican Party

A friend of mine--a dyed-in-the-wool liberal--has somehow managed to land himself on the Republican Party of Wisconsin's mailing list, and as such, has been receiving some rather lovely pieces of political propaganda.

The most recent one is, simply put, pretty despicable, and I'm having a hard time figuring out why exactly the GOP seems to think that the "Obama makes love to Bill Ayers' TERRORIST body on a nightly basis" narrative is 1) beneficial to McCain's campaign, and 2) at all true.

Opinion polls and facts aside, however, they march on with this nonsense and send out garbage like this:

(click to embiggen)

Oh yeah, the Republican Party: one classy operation.

UPDATE TO ADD: is running an AP article that talks about this mailer and the other shady activities the GOP/McCain campaign have been up to lately. This is the choice quote: "...there is no evidence [Obama and Ayers] are close friends."

There's also a quote from Wisconsin Republican Party spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski defending the mailer:

"We're not calling Barack Obama a terrorist," she said. "We never have and never will. He is not."

The mailer was just a small part of the party's overall message, she said.

"I guess our goal is to put the information out there and let people make up their own minds," Kukowski said. She said despite nearly two years of campaigning, Obama remains an "unknown figure."

No, you're not directly calling Obama a terrorist, but by trying again and again to (falsely) make him out to be a close personal friend of Ayers, and putting things like "Terrorist. Radical. Friend of Obama." on your mailers, you're coming damn near close. And your followers are clearly getting the message.

As for Kukowski's claim that Obama is still an "unknown figure," I call bullshit. We've got several auto/biographies, a pretty damn thorough vetting of him through his state and national Senate campaigns and his years long run for the presidency, and more. This assertion that we still "don't know the real Barack Obama" is as ludicrous as asserting that dinosaurs and man roamed the Earth together.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

JB Van Hollen has a good sense of humor

In a letter to Senate Democrats, who were curious as to how much taxpayer money was being spent on his "frivolous" lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen claimed that, "At the time of your letter, the Department of Justice had spent the court filing fee: $155."

It's possible that, at the time the letter arrived in his hands, the only pay out that had been made was the filing fee. What he's leaving out, perhaps out of spite, is how much it has cost to pay DoJ employees to work on the case:
[Rep. Mark] Pocan said Van Hollen omitted the cost of having Department of Justice employees work long hours on the complicated lawsuit since its filing six weeks ago.

“He’s had his spokesman on the issue. He’s had lawyers on the issue — and they wrote a 78-page brief,” Pocan said. “It’s pretty clear he’s not telling us how much taxpayer money he’s wasting on this lawsuit.”
Maybe it's all just an elaborate practical joke Van Hollen is pulling. I mean, claiming that a suit of any size only costs $155 is pretty laughable. Unless he's doing this pro bono, out of the goodness of his own heart.

Excuse me, I'm laughing again....OK, all better.

Let's hope that the judge hearing the case tomorrow takes things a little more seriously, and gives Van Hollen a good, proper rebuking.

The journey's a drag, and so is the destination

Now that I've had a few days to recover, I want to tell you the story of my weekend. It was, mildly put, quite the adventure.

The International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE for short) is a conference and festival that celebrates drag king and queer culture in general. Held every year since 1998, when the first IDKE was put together in Columbus, Ohio, it has since bounced from city to city and grown exponentially in size. This year being the tenth anniversary, it returned to its home city, and I decided to go (this was my third IDKE, the others being last year's in Vancouver, Canada and IDKE 6 in Chicago). But whereas last year I went as a performer with my sister's troupe from Chicago, this year I was just going to observe and have a good time. And it was a damn good thing, too, as had I been performing, my weekend would have been even more stressful than it already was.

Friday morning, me and the fella jumped into my "trusty" minivan and headed southeast along the interstate, bound for Ohio. Our journey was relatively uneventful--just filled with abominable tolls in Illinois--until we hit the outskirts of Richmond, Indiana, near the border with Ohio. It was at that point that my fella, then in the driver's seat, noticed the "check engine" light come on. I gazed over at the various gauges on the dashboard and noticed, with some alarm, that the engine heat level had skyrocketed. We immediately looked for a place to pull over, settled on the nearest gas station, and upon stopping noticed a great deal of steam wafting out from under the hood.

Not good.

I opened her up and took a gander at my suffering van's insides: there was a hissing noise, as though some liquid were being released and immediately superheated. I noticed some unpleasant looking green stuff splattered across various of the hoses and bits near the waterpump, but as I am not an expert on the inner workings of car engines, I didn't really know what to make of it.

Hoping beyond hope that it was a simple matter of being low on oil, we poured a container of the stuff down the pipes and crossed our fingers as we got back in and started her back up. Sadly, and perhaps rather predictably, the engine temperature shot right back up, so we cruised down the road into town looking for an actual service station. Fortunately, there was a small, honest-to-goodness mom and pop place nearby, and they took us in. Unfortunately, it turned out that both my water pump and some crazy big hose had gone bad, and even worse, they'd have to order the new hose because there weren't any in town. That's the price I pay for driving a Mazda, I guess.

What this meant was that 1) we'd need to leave the minivan at the shop for the week so they could order the part and do the work, and 2) we'd also need to rent a car to get us the rest of the way to Columbus. Our luck was working hard to balance itself out, though, as a local dealership had a special for that shop where they'd pick us up and rent us a car for $25 a day. Naturally, we took them up on it, and were shortly back on our way.

In the midst of all that, several worried phonecalls came in from various concerned parties--my sister, our friends the Mad Kings, who were also headed to Columbus--with many generous offers to come pick us up if need be. We were grateful for the offers, but yet more grateful that we were able to rent a car instead of putting our friends out by having them drive two hours back to come get us.

The delay meant that we didn't get into Columbus until around 9, which was when the evening's entertainment was scheduled to start. Dragdom is the "open mic" night of the conference, when anyone and everyone can sign up to perform. We were bummed to miss the first half of it, but happy to get to see anything at all at that point. The event was held in a place called the Wall Street Nightclub, which was apparently the location of the first year's Showcase event (Showcase being the final night's big blowout, where you have to apply well ahead of time to get on stage). The acts were great and wonderfully diverse: a group did a Batman and Robin gettin' it on piece, a solo act did a hilarious burlesque-ish piece to a song I must find (innuendo involving used furniture sales), another solo artist was done up like some crazy cross between Klaus Nomi and Nosferatu, etc etc.

We had a good time, but were pretty damn exhausted by the end and decided to go straight back to our hotel rather than stay out for any afterparties.

Saturday dawned clear and cool, and we (thankfully) had all day before needing to be anywhere. After handing off some props we'd brought up for the Mad Kings, the fella and I headed out to explore fabulous Columbus. We ate amazing pancakes and drank good tea at a local tea shop, discovered a really cool bike and clothing shop where a friendly sales clerk chatted with us about what to see and do in Columbus, strolled through the scenic German Village area, and explored some rundown factory areas where I took a billion pictures.

At some point while we were off enjoying ourselves, our performer friends were not having such a good time. Props were breaking, communication from the organizers left something to be desired, and folks were just plum stressed out. I had enough to deal with in the fire I was soon going to have to set to my credit card because of the van, so I thanked my lucky stars that I'd decided not to perform this year.

Despite all of the trials and tribulations that led up to it, however, the actual Showcase event went off with almost no hitches, and the acts were wildly entertaining pretty much across the board. I was especially proud of the contingent of Mad Kings who went on, as this was their very first IDKE and they represented Madison well. My sister and her Chicaco cohorts put on a superb and visually stunning piece (as usual) involving more liquid latex than you could shake a stick at. Tamale, who was the fantastic emcee of "Hot Mess" here in Madison back in July, did some impressive fire spinning. There were performers from all over the US, plus some that had even come from Canada, France, Italy, and even New Zealand.

What's been great to see at more recent drag king events is the embrace and inclusion of more burlesque and cabaret elements, with even hardcore kings stripping down, plus sword and fire dancers, live singing and rapping, and just about anything else you could think of. It's fantastic.

After four hours of being on my feet and snapping away in the front row, I was pretty beat. So instead of getting my dance on after the show, I sat, content, and simply watched the people around me celebrating.

The openness and creativity of that community is, simply put, both awe inspiring and comforting.

We had to return our rental car to the dealership in Richmond the next day, so we rented yet another car while still in Columbus so we'd have a way to get back to Madison once that was done. The trip back was, happily, without incident, but I now have to drive back to Indiana this weekend to pick up my hopefully fixed minivan. It was worth it to see the great performances, but I certainly could have done without the added expense and hassle. Ah well, chalk it up to experience, right?

Next year, I'll have to get the ol' girl a full check up beforehand: we're off to the desert in 2009!

For the full photo set (with more to be added soon) from my IDKE adventures, check out my Flickr page.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I think I figured it out...

...all this screeching from the right-wing about ACORN and alleged widespread voter fraud (for which there is little to no evidence)?

They're getting ready to lose.

Expanding interstates in the age of declining driving

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to expand I-39/90 from Madison to the Illinois border to a whopping six lanes. Frankly, this makes about as much sense to me as does the Pabst Farms interchange project in Milwaukee: none at all.

Though they've come down from their recent extreme highs, I really doubt that gas prices are going to come down so much that we as a nation return to our big gas guzzling cars and frivolous drives to get our mail at the end of the driveway any time soon (if ever). Studies point to a major decrease in the amount of miles Americans are driving, politicians are finally getting the memo about properly funding things like public transportation and walkable/bikeable neighborhoods, and the general trend, though at times frustratingly slow to take hold, is toward a better mix of transportation modes.

Why, then, spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an interstate expansion? The project also includes plans to upgrade old bridges, which I'm all for, but the part where they intend to make it six lanes is, I believe, ridiculous. That money could be better spent on more crucial infrastructure improvements--like the bridges, preexisting roads that are in sorry shape, bike lanes, sewer upgrades, etc.

To say nothing of aesthetics. Big, sprawling interstates are ugly, and the construction of them tends to tear up farm land and countryside, and cause more polluting runoff.

And anyway, should we really be encouraging more vehicles to be on the road? WisDOT is holding public meetings in two locations where anyone can come see and hear about the plan, and offer their input. I'm hopeful that there will be enough reasonable questioning of the lane expansion that it gets scrapped, but then the cynical part of me has been watching what's going on in Milwaukee and isn't so sure that reason plays as big a role as it should when it comes to decisions like this.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I'm just back from an incredibly exhausting weekend, and am not entirely sure I have a proper post in me. We'll see, but in the meantime I wanted to share this wonderful article from the New York Times. Long live the Biblioburro!

Expect a recounting of my weekend adventures at some point either late tonight or tomorrow: of minivans breaking down in Indiana, drag kings, German villages, bike/clothes shops, and Roman nudity. Huzzah!

Oh and apparently Barack Obama himself is going to be rocking the capitol steps here in Madison on Thursday. Will you play hooky from work to see him?

And on a final note, I have to brag a little bit: my first published-in-print article since college is in the current issue of Isthmus, and I couldn't be more pleased. You can also read it online, if you're so inclined.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Brunch: Send me a BMX angel

I'm just on a bike-themed movie clip roll these days, but I can't resist when they're just this good (and hey, looks like other folks have picked up on the awesomeness that is Lady is the Boss, too!). Recently, I was sent this amazing clip from the 1986 BMX movie Rad. So inspired by the beautiful absurdity of it, I was inspired to sit down and revisit the film in its entirety (jealous?). It is, in fact, a crap fest--but one that includes some pretty decent bike stunts, hilariously awful clothes and hair, a very young Lori Loughlin, and they also somehow manage to get away with making an actual bike company--Mongoose--into the villain. Hey, I ride a Mongoose, and it's a fine bike, damnit! Does that make me a villain?

Anyway, enjoy:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The desperate campaign

This is just ridiculous. The RNC is sending out a particularly heinous robo-call to various Wisconsin residents, once again linking Barack Obama to "domestic terrorist Bill Ayers." This shit has been put to bed so many times and so thoroughly, that I can't help but think that the McCain campaign is seriously stuck in second gear and can't think of anything else to throw out there.

I'm going to parrot Dustin and say "NO. BAD. INNAPPROPRIATE. Do I have to rub your nose in this before you'll learn?" Seriously, this is unnacceptable.

Apparently, someone recorded said message as left on their answering machine, and you can have a listen to the rubbish here.

My friends, that's what we call a clean sweep

I was at band practice during the debates last night, but I came home and watched most of it via the good ol' intertubes and read some of the immediate commentary/reaction as well. My impression of who "won" the debate (subjective as that is) seems to be in line with the majority of the rest of the country: Obama, easily, and that makes him three for three in this debate thing. He was cool, collected, and on point, whereas McCain came off as whiny, irritated, and scattered.

When it came to awesome facial expressions, though, the winner was clearly McCain.

This photo seems to sum up what he thinks of so-called "women's health", though I think what's actually happening is that he's just had a vision of his future in politics:

I was especially impressed with (and relieved by) how Obama addressed the issues of ACORN and Ayers. Not that I suspect what he said will quiet the most rabid of the right-wing noise machine, but for those moderates who'd only been hearing snippets about the issues, I suspect it will put them to bed once and for all. Here's that section of the debate, for reference and because I think it's that good:

In fact, Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of Senator McCain's campaign over the last two or three weeks. This has been their primary focus. So let's get the record straight. Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago.

Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg.

Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper.

Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House. So that's Mr. Ayers.

Now, with respect to ACORN, ACORN is a community organization. Apparently what they've done is they were paying people to go out and register folks, and apparently some of the people who were out there didn't really register people, they just filled out a bunch of names.

It had nothing to do with us. We were not involved. The only involvement I've had with ACORN was I represented them alongside the U.S. Justice Department in making Illinois implement a motor voter law that helped people get registered at DMVs.

Now, the reason I think that it's important to just get these facts out is because the allegation that Senator McCain has continually made is that somehow my associations are troubling.

Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy, I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. If I'm interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO.

Those are the people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House. And I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.

Meanwhile, in somewhat related news, Obama's lead in Wisconsin is apparently so great the the Republican National Committee is pulling all of its McCain ads out of the state. While I'm a little sad that we've apparently lost our battleground state status and thus some national spotlight, I can't say I'm disappointed.

EDIT: That photo above reminded me of this screengrab from a recent-ish episode of the Colbert Report:
John McCain is a reptilian! It all suddenly makes sense now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The good news for Oct. 15, 2008

Apologies in advance, as most of what I've linked here is actually pretty negative news, or at best, a case of schadenfreude. Still, I think these are all rather important and/or interesting pieces of news and commentary, so I hope you'll take a look.

Also, happy UN Global Handwashing Day! Now, go wash your damn hands (but be sure to use regular, non-antibacterial soap, eh?)!

  • [LA Times] A remarkably comprehensive and honest look at the current GOP generated hubbub over ACORN and bogus voter registrations. Bottom line: ACORN is not the bogey-man so many on the right-wing have made it out to be.
  • [Portfolio] A great, understandable-to-laymen-like-me look at what credit derivatives are, where they came from, and how they've contributed to the current economic mess.
  • [ABC News] How is this not a bigger headline? White House memos specifically condoning CIA torture methods, including waterboarding, have been officially confirmed. Hello, outrage?
  • [New York Magazine] Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone puts the IM smackdown on Byron York of the National Review over the sources of the credit crisis.

Blog Day of Action: Poverty

When you hear the word "poverty," what do you think about?

Me? The images conjured up in my head are usually of dusty countries, where children with fly-encrusted eyes sport weirdly bulging bellies and women haul water in jugs from dingy wells miles away from their ramshackle huts.

And hey, we wouldn't be wrong. It's incredibly important to recognize and try to do something about that kind of extreme, abject poverty that exists for far too many people in this world.

But in honor of today's Blog Day of Action focusing on poverty, and since my blog is but a small, local blog, I want to focus on the kind of poverty that all-too-often goes overlooked: the kind that exists in our own backyards, right here in Wisconsin.

Statically, Wisconsin ranks 33rd highest in the nation when it comes to poverty, with a rate of 10.9% (including 14% of children). In human terms, that means that somewhere around 600,000 people in this state live in poverty, and the trend, unfortunately, seems to be toward things getting worse.

We're all feeling the increasing pinch of the credit crunch and general economic downturn. Those of us who were already living on the very edge, however, are being pushed into the abyss by this downturn in fortunes. Second Harvest, an excellent food pantry that serves 16 counties in southern Wisconsin, reports an significant increase in the number of individuals and families served by its programs over the last few years. This coupled with the unfortunate decrease in the amount of food being donated from corporations are both troubling signs of the times.

While poverty has been a pressing issue for a long, long time, things certainly seem to be getting worse for a wider range of people these days. Now more than ever, perhaps, it is important to take a hard look at our policies and programs, to see what we can and should be doing better to ensure that fewer (or preferably, none at all) people end up falling below the poverty line, and to help raise up those folks who are already there.

It will take a carefully considered balance between government and community programs to do this, but it's possible.

While we take time to consider the many and varied root causes of poverty--things like educational quality and opportunities, job availability and wages, culture, etc.--we must also be sure to tend to the immediate needs of those most at risk.

Organizations like Second Harvest and the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) are crucial, and I urge you to either donate food, time, or other resources to help bolster their efforts. WISCAP especially provides a good example of the kind of work that helps lift people out of poverty by working toward job training and creation, fostering small businesses, providing educational opportunities for young and old, developing and maintaining affordable housing, and even helping to weatherize homes in order to make them more energy efficient (and therefore lower cost).

Poverty, whether directly or indirectly, effects us all - and it benefits us all to do what we can to lessen and/or eradicate it. In a country as wealthy as ours, there is no excuse for us to allow such large swaths of our community to live without basic resources. No one should have to choose between food and heating bills, or medicine and rent. It will take a mixture of personal responsibility, community action, and government assistance to make things better. The payoffs will be many: a more productive and educated workforce, lower health care costs, potentially lower crime rates, healthier people and families, etc.

We simply cannot afford to ignore the problems that exist all around us. Clearly there are deep divisions over and misunderstandings about poverty even in seemingly well-off and liberal Madison, where debates over homelessness have recently turned heated. But it's important to take a hard, honest look at ourselves and our communities, and to make good-faith efforts at real improvements. We can't just sweep the problems under the proverbial rug, hoping that they'll just move to other cities or stay quiet enough that we can just walk by without looking.

Today, the Capital Times has two articles dealing with homeless students in our state's public schools, and how, with limited funding, they're trying to address their needs as best they can.

For an excellent, more in-depth look at poverty in Wisconsin, read this report from WISCAP (pdf).

If you want to help, consider a donation to Second Harvest, supporting programs like Porchlight, or helping out with something like the Luke House Community Meals Program. Every little bit helps.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Love of a season

The weather this past weekend was about as idyllic as it gets. With the fall colors in southern Wisconsin striving for their peak, temperatures wandered up into the high 70's and the sun shone brightly over a few scattered clouds and a quiet breeze. Naturally, one is all but compelled to spend a great deal of time out of doors when such weather presents itself.

Me and the fella, so compelled, suited up and headed out to do some mountain biking in Waterloo. As we maneuvered our way around roots and rocks and killer obstacles we're not yet awesome enough to tackle, we couldn't help but be constantly marveling at just how gorgeous everything was. The trails wind through acres of land on the side of a large mound/hill that's covered in most places by a combination of pine and deciduous forest. We passed through brightly colored sections where the sun burst through the canopy and sent rays of light down onto the leaf-strewn floor, and other spots where the light breeze shook free a shower of dead pine needles that then drifted down around us.

Seriously, it was almost as though someone had planned it.

After working up a good lather, we headed out to the Eplegaarden to pick out a single pumpkin for future use as a jack-o-lantern. The joint was, unsurprisingly, jumping, as parents and children and giddy college students swarmed the apple orchards and pumpkin fields in a hunt for seasonal produce. We found a slightly more out-of-the-way field where the selection was less picked over and found a specimen that met our exacting standards: no insect holes, a good long stem, and at least one side with a good surface for carving.

It was hard to watch the sun set at the end of Sunday knowing that such a perfect weekend was unlikely to roll around again at least until next year. "I want to bottle today and keep it around forever," said the fella. And I couldn't agree more, but I'm thankful to have been given such a lovely Indian Summer at all. Autumn is my favorite season, but my love for it is always tempered with the knowledge that fall tends to be the most mercurial of seasons, and that once it's done, there's a long winter to get through. Even so, I can't help but love this time of year: the brilliant colors in the trees, the harvest, Halloween, that crisp bite that seeps into the air, caramel apples, pumpkins, and warm kitchens that remind me of being small.

This coming weekend I'll be traveling to Columbus, Ohio for the tenth annual International Drag King Extravaganza, and I'm hoping that the weather will cooperate for daytime excursions to explore various parts of a city to which I've never been before. Will autumn be as spectacular there as it is in Wisconsin? Is that even possible? I admit I'm a little biased toward the natural beauty of my adopted state, but I'll do my best to keep my eyes, ears and nose open to the different--but I'm sure perfectly nice--sights, sounds and smells of fall in Ohio. After all, autumn beggars ought not be choosers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kudos to area Catholics for standing up to Morlino

This weekend I picked up a copy of the Wisconsin State Journal and read, with an increasingly large smile on my face, an ad placed by the local chapter of Call to Action containing an open letter to Bishop Robert Morlino. In the letter, which they also delivered to Morlino himself, the group expresses their concerns over several things: Morlino's insistence on building a brand new cathedral, his leadership style's effect on the morale of priests, his single-minded focus on issues like abortion and homosexuality, the exclusion of women from the clergy, and the firing of an openly gay music director.

First off, I want to extend my support to those who backed the ad/letter, and hope that this movement meets with some success in helping to open a productive dialogue within the Church.

The WSJ also included an article about the letter and responses to it:
In a statement, the diocese said Morlino is sorry that "certain groups, who claim to be Catholic, would assume postures which clearly are not in accord with the teachings of the church."
This is what really gets up my guff: Morlino certainly has every right to disagree with the letter and its claims, but where he gets off shutting the whole thing down by immediately calling into question the letter writer's very Catholicism I don't even know. I would be pretty pissed, too, if the head of my church (or any organization to which I belonged) dismissed by valid concerns so easily. But that's just how Morlino rolls, it seems, as he bats off any and all criticisms with personal attacks.

No wonder some of the priests feel threatened enough to have formed their own support group, as detailed in the article:
Asked for evidence of poor morale among priests, several of the letter signers mentioned the Association of Madison Priests. The group was formed by priests to support each other and to provide a unified voice on issues in which they differ with Morlino, according to people familiar with the group.

"They feel the need to protect each other," said Joan Weiss of Prairie du Sac, a CTA leader. "They're concerned about retaliation if they speak out in opposition in any way."
Apparently, this sort of independent priest group is fairly rare, yet another sign that the situation with Morlino and his leadership style might just be a bit extreme.

I can't say I've been particularly surprised by Morlino's various outrages ever since learning that he is the chairman of the Board of Visitors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of Americas. Why is this fact so heinous? Well, WHISC/SOA is responsible for training some of South America's most notorious military criminals, some of whom were responsible for the murder of Jesuit priests. But Morlino defended his position with the institute and ignored the opposition of clergy in Madison.

I'm not Catholic, so I have been and will no doubt continue to be criticized for sticking my nose in where some don't think it belongs. I have several close friends who are Catholic, however, and I attended a Catholic college - so you'll excuse me if I have some interest in and empathy for those struggling with their own beliefs and those so vigorously being imposed on them from on high.

What's interesting, too, is that so many people who agree with Morlino and the positions he pushes, when confronted with fellow Catholics who disagree, often call into question those people's reasons for remaining Catholics. It's the "love it or leave it" frame of mind. A good example of this can be found at the blog of a one "Fr. Z", where he addresses the current hubbub over the letter. He refers to the independent priest's group as "cowards," and outright dismisses the dissenters as being 100% "wrong."

Heck, maybe it is time for the more modern, forward-thinking Catholics to start their own branch of the Church. It'd be a shame, because I'd much rather see the whole Church work together to move, in their own way, into the 21st century. But if the modernizers did form their own group, I suspect it would take a rather large chunk out of regular Catholic membership--maybe that would teach people like Morlino and the Pope a valuable lesson, ie: if you actually listen to the concerns of your parishioners instead of being so damn rigidly hierarchical and dismissing them outright, maybe you wouldn't be facing things like the current priest shortage or declining mass attendance.

The cynical side of me says let them eat cake and suffer the consequences of their stubbornly backward-looking policies - but like I said, I have many close friends who are Catholics, and they find a lot to love in the Church, things like its commitment to social justice, and even the more traditional services. So the idealistic side of me wishes for better and more open dialogue about the future of the church, allowing real input from everyone from lay people to priests to bishops, leading to some progressive changes in how things are done. Why not allow women into the clergy? Why not a greater focus on addressing poverty, hunger, and social justice, instead of such single-minded railing against things like homosexuality and abortion? Why not, in a world where the population is ever-exploding, relax the restrictions on contraception?

Whether that means outright removal of Morlino as bishop or just convincing the guy to be a little more open to input, I don't know. That's up to the Catholics. But this public criticism, and the group supporting it, are certainly a step in the right direction and I wish them luck.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Brunch: Bicycle kung-fu!

OK, this is seriously just about the most amazing thing I've ever found on Youtube. It is at turns both incredibly rad and completely baffling, and I love it for that.

Bicycles. Kung-fu. Lady and her gang using their bicycles to kung-fu the bad guys into submission. I mean, it just doesn't get much better than that. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The future of food

I highly, highly recommend reading an article recently published in the New York Times by Michael Pollan, written as a letter to the next president, all about moving America toward a better, more secure food future.

Seriously, read the whole thing.

Pollan has so many good suggestions for moving away from monocultures and toward more sustainable, but still large-scale food production techniques: "sun-based regional agriculture", he calls it. Some of the proposals are so simple that you'd be hard pressed to think of a reason not to implement them. Even the trickier ones still make perfect sense.

This should be required reading for everyone, especially the next president.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The good news for Oct. 10, 2008

We could all certainly use some good news these days, what with the stock market plummeting, banks folding, whole countries facing bankruptcy (Iceland! What happened?!), an increasingly venomous presidential race, and unemployment growing. It's important to seek out rays of hope and goodness in the midst of all this, too, so here are a few recent items to help cheer you up on this sunny, gorgeous autumn day:

  • [Reuters] The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, making it the third state in the country to fully legalize same-sex marriages. Go Connecticut! Now, I'm casting a critical eye on you, Wisconsin....
  • [WISCTV] Tucked away in that otherwise shady bail-out bill recently passed by Congress and signed by President Bush were a few really decent riders. We got Mental Health Parity (finally!) and a cool bike commuter tax incentive.
  • [dane101] The Madison roller derby All-Star team, the Dairyland Dolls, won their first match in the Eastern Regional Finals this morning, defeating Minnesota 143-67. They now move on to face off against number one seed New York City tonight at 6:30pm.
  • [CNN] Hundreds of wayward penguins were saved, rehabilitated, and re-released successfully into the wild down Brazil way. Hooray!

Temporary reprieve for WYOU

Good news out of the Mayor's office today: Cieslewicz has decided not to drop public access channel WYOU's funding for at least the next year, giving it some time to get its ducks in a row and plan for a more independent future.

Cieslewicz wanted to give the nearly $140,000 designated for WYOU to City Channel, which broadcasts government meetings and civic events. This would spare the city from having to use property tax dollars to help supplement funds for City Channel.

After a recent meeting with WYOU's board of directors, Cieslewicz called the station and said he would leave WYOU's budget alone for 2009, but warned that the station would only get half its current allocation the following year.

So it's not all roses and candy for WYOU, but it's better than nothing. I wrote about my feelings toward WYOU before, expressing that I think it's an important community resource and deserves funding, but that I also understand that the city (and the whole country) is up against pretty dire economic circumstances and needs to make tough decisions about where to put its money.

Fact is, this would have been less of an issue had we not passed that inferal Video Competition Act, which has allowed Charter to drop its local cable franchise agreement in favor of a statewide one, meaning that "all financing for public, educational and government channels, or PEG channels, is set to end by February 2011."

Basically, instead of the cable companies helping to provide funding for public stations through small fees charged to its subscribers (something they really ought to have to do, seeing as how the airwaves are public in the first place), we're to be left having to shift the burden to taxpayers/the city. And since the city can't really afford that, WYOU and other such channels will have to scramble to raise their own funds--which ain't exactly easy, but they're already planning for exactly that scenario.
The station will also do more outreach to let the public know its mission and explain its importance to the community.

"City Channel is the channel that uses actual tax dollars and not WYOU," Swansboro said. People need to start asking questions like, "Why is the government channel more important than the people's channel?"

Swansboro said Cieslewicz didn't know much about WYOU when they met.

"He didn't know that we taught classes. He didn't know that we had children's groups in here. He didn't even know that the executive director had been fired in April. I think he found out that he can't count on his people to give him information, at least about WYOU," Swansboro said.

Cieslewicz said he was happy to learn that the WYOU board is already planning for a day without PEG access fee support.

"I was very pleased that the board and I could agree on a phase-out of city cable fee backing and that WYOU -- like WORT on radio -- is likely to live on with broader community support," the mayor said.

Let's hope so, anyway.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Casting off the ballot casters

In the push to bring their states into compliance with HAVA, it looks like many have gone too far. According to a recent study by the New York Times:
Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times.
The study didn't find any particularly partisan reasons for these purges, which is good, but it does, I think, illustrate what can happen when we value kicking people off the rolls over getting them properly registered.

This certainly isn't true across the board, but more Democrats seem primarily concerned with making sure anyone and everyone who can vote is able to do so, whereas more Republicans seem primarily concerned with making sure anyone and everyone who cannot vote is not able to do so. It's a notable difference in philosophies. Both are important, but I happen to believe that the former should be our priority.

As for these swing states' overzealous and improper enforcement of HAVA requirements, I can't help but be reminded of the voter registration controversy here in Wisconsin. Aside from the fact that it's looking more and more like Attorney General Van Hollen filed it for somewhat dubious, partisan reasons, I'm left wondering just how effective it's possible for HAVA to be in its current incarnation. It seems to be wreaking havoc all over the country.

Yes, our voting system needs overhauling--you've only to refer to the 2000 elections in Florida and the 2004 elections in Ohio for prime examples of why--but I'm not convinced that this is the way to go about it. Fact is, the spectre of voter fraud so often and ominously raised is rather flimsy. Cases of individual voter fraud are few and far between, and hardly merit the panic and radical action (ID requirements, for instance) so often being called for.

According to, in the 2004 elections in Wisconsin:
...allegations yielded only 7 substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted -- all persons with felony convictions. This amounts to a rate of 0.0025% within Milwaukee and 0.0002% within the state as a whole. None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.
So while it's important to make sure that people legally barred from voting--or people who don't exist in the first place--don't cast ballots, it's not nearly so pressing and huge an issue as some folks would have us believe. Shouldn't we be more concerned with things like hackable ballot machines without paper trails? Provisional ballots not being counted? Disenfranchisement of certain legal voters?

Fact is, there are far more crucial issues in our election system that need addressing, too. Perhaps we should revisit HAVA. Absolutely we should make sure that states are following appropriate procedures when checking voter registration databases instead of wildly purging thousands from the rolls based on incorrect information. Again, the NYT:

In Michigan, some 33,000 voters were removed from the rolls in August, a figure that is far higher than the number of deaths in the state during the same period — about 7,100 — or the number of people who moved out of the state — about 4,400, according to data from the Postal Service.

In Colorado, some 37,000 people were removed from the rolls in the three weeks after July 21. During that time, about 5,100 people moved out of the state and about 2,400 died, according to postal data and death records.

In Louisiana, at least 18,000 people were dropped from the rolls in the five weeks after July 23. Over the same period, at least 1,600 people moved out of state and at least 3,300 died.

This could very well lead to some serious problems come election day, as these tens of thousands of people unfairly removed from lists show up at the polls expecting to cast their ballots, only to meet challenges from party officials or election workers.

Frankly, registration and election laws in this country are a mess. We need a standardized, streamlined, and as fool-proof as possible system of checking registrations. We need ballot machines, like the optical scanner versions we have in Wisconsin, that are 1) easy to read and fill out, 2) electronic and so easy to count, and 3) still have a paper trail (plus, there's pretty much nothing to hack in these). We need same-day and motor-voter registration laws, like those in Wisconsin, for the entire country. And heck, while we're at it, why not consider holding elections on weekends, and let them span two days instead of just one? It would make it easier for people to find time to vote, and allow for more time to count all of the ballots, instead of this weird insistance on having results the same day.

Making sure that every eligible voter gets to have their say should be the priority.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No zingers in the debate, but so what?

I actually had the chance to sit down and watch the second presidential debate last night (and because I am a super ultra-modern lass with no cable TV, I did the sensible thing and streamed it live through, which was pretty great, actually). And while I think Obama could have done a better job of articulating some of his points, and not gone over time hashing out the same stump speech points as always, I was overall pretty pleased with how it went.

My slightly biased opinion is that Obama "won" - simply by dint of doing a better job of directly answering a higher percentage of the questions with actual policy ideas than McCain did, and by not making any weird references to overheard projectors and Jello.

It's interesting, though, to see so many people bemoaning what they saw as such a "boring" debate. No harsh zingers, no smack-downs. And hey, I'm all for a good smack-down, but when it comes to deciding the next president of the United States, I'm a bigger fan of getting actual substance. Should we really be hoping for nasty talking points? I think it's more important to expect our elected officials to actually talk about issues, which they did a fairly decent job of last night. Not great, but decent, and I think that's worth something.

Still, all the headlines call it a snooze-fest. Sigh. Maybe I'm just missing something here.

EDIT TO ADD: A tip of the ol' hat to John for passing this article along to me - this is an insightful and blunt look at McCain's newly minted call to buy up people's bad mortgages. I am about as far from an economist as you can get, so this kind of analysis is incredibly helpful.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Will hiking bus fares hurt more than help?

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz today announces his proposed 2009 city operating budget, calling it a "share the pain" plan, reflecting the increasingly difficult economic times we're all living in. It does look like he's honestly trying to make things work as best they can for everyone without dramatically cutting services, and I applaud him for being willing to make such tough decisions.

So far, most of the proposed budget looks fairly reasonable, though I've yet to see anything more detailed than a bullet pointed list of its features.

The one thing that does have me concerned so far, though, is the proposal to raise bus fares by fifty cents, up to two dollars per ride. There is also mention of how the plan also "Doubles funding to $80,000 to help those with low-incomes" but I'm not entirely sure what that means. That's important, because while it's good that the plan calls for expanding service, the good that does may be offset by an increase in the base fare. People working with tight personal budgets often rely on the bus to get them to and from their jobs. Fifty cents may not seem like much to some of us lucky souls, but for someone who uses the bus on a regular basis just to get to work, it adds up right quickly.

I can't help but wonder if it shouldn't be possible to expand service without hiking rates, especially since ridership is at all-time highs. It's a trend we're seeing nationwide, largely due to the increased cost of gas, and most experts seem to agree that the trend will only continue in the long-run. Shouldn't this mean that Metro is taking in more revenue from riders? And shouldn't that help to offset some of the costs associated with the proposed rate hike? I'm asking this honestly, because I don't know the precise details of how things work at Metro and what everything costs.

I'm concerned, though, because if there does absolutely need to be a rate increase, it absolutely should be coupled with some sort of program to help lower income riders.

I drove for Women's Transit Authority for a year, shortly before it went under, and had the chance to get to know a number of hard working women who relied on our (free) service to get to and from (often several) jobs. They were also big bus riders, though had many seemingly legitimate complaints about route cuts and overall service. Many had been entirely left behind when Metro retooled how it ran a number of years ago (the switch from lettered to numbered routes). One woman who worked at St. Mary's Care Center out on Madison's west side had called Metro to see if they picked up anywhere nearby, only to be assured that there was a bus stop "just about a mile away" - a bus stop, it turned out, that was over a mile away over an unlit hill in the middle of the country, and one that didn't run late enough to pick her up from her second shift job.

I understand that the buses can't feasibly serve everyone all of the time, but it seems like there are currently holes that could be filled. And it seems reasonable that we should be putting some extra resources into helping expand and better the service of something that helps ease congestion on our roads, lower the amount of pollutants being spewed into the air, and provides a lower cost way for people on smaller incomes to get around.

Heck, maybe we could take some of the money from the proposed I-94 expansion and put it toward Metro service instead. It's an idea, anyway.

I'll be curious to read a more detailed report of the mayor's budget, and what exactly that money to "help those with low incomes" is for. I just want to make sure we keep in mind how difficult even a fifty cent increase in fares can be for a lot of the people who rely the most on the service.

UPDATE TO ADD: Brenda Konkel posted the slightly more specific ways in which the higher rates would be used (she's also pretty miffed about the budget cutting funding for Community Services agencies, and I don't blame her). I'm still trying to find out more information about this supposed "Transit for Jobs" program that's mentioned, and what exactly they're doing to defray costs for lower income riders. Plus, it's looking like higher fuel costs aren't really the main reason for the increase. Interesting.


On a somewhat related note, I was very excited to read this article in the Chicago Tribune. It notes how Congress recently passed, by a veto-proof margin, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act, which, while spurred on by the recent tragic Amtrak accident in California, also includes some major provisions for expanding rail service nationwide:
The landmark legislation, which the White House said President George W. Bush will sign, calls for almost doubling the federal funding provided to Amtrak—about $13.1 billion over five years.

Among other precedents, it authorizes $3.4 billion to create high-speed passenger rail corridors and provide rail capital-improvement grants to states.

The ambitious project proposed for the Midwest would cover 3,000 miles in nine states. All lines would radiate from a hub in downtown Chicago. The cost of a fully completed Midwest network is estimated at almost $8 billion.


Planners envision the line running from Chicago up through Milwaukee, Madison, the Twin Cities and eventually Duluth, while separate routes from Chicago would extend east to Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Can I just tell you how excited I am about that? I have been chomping at the bit for passenger rail service between Chicago and Madison, at the very least, ever since moving here. I would seriously use this about once a month, if not more, and I know a lot of other folks who feel the same way. It's good to see that lawmakers and others are finally sitting up and taking notice that we've become far too reliant on cars in this nation, and that good, reliable train and bus service should be just as, if not more so, funded as highway construction and the like. It's a shame that it's taken skyrocketing fuel costs for this to happen, but better late than never, I figure.

h/t Fearful Symmetries.

("ssshhh, baby listen, hear the train?")

Monday, October 6, 2008

McIlheran doesn't quite get separation of church and state

Columnist Patrick McIlheran can't seem to wrap his head around the concept of separation of church and state. In his latest opus, he opines that the IRS can penalize and potentially revoke a church's tax exempt status simply because its preacher decides to endorse a specific candidate for public office from the pulpit.

This is in response "Pulpit Freedom Sunday", an event coordinated by the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund wherein 33 pastors gave sermons that explicitly urged parishioners to vote for a specific presidential candidate (mostly McCain), and then sent those sermons to the IRS as a way to openly defy the tax law.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, along with several former IRS officials, have all sent briefs to the IRS urging them to investigate the churches that participated.

McIlheran rambles on about how this shouldn't be an issue at all, because "preachers were utterly free to rail for Lincoln or against Hoover for 178 years, and the nation seemed no more prone to divisiveness then than now. The civil rights movement was born in black churches, many of which have long been bravely, openly political. Pulpit speeches and endorsements from African-American pastors remain a staple of Democratic political campaigns."

What he utterly fails to see is that 1) because it was done in the past, does not mean it should be done now, 2) any preacher that makes an edorsement from the pulpit should be penalized, but endorsing from the pulpit is not the same as endorsing when you're just out and about. Martin Luther King Jr., it's worth noting, never endoresed a specific candidate, but he was still an active and strong force for social and political change.

McIlheran incorrectly and misleadingly asks "since when is it OK in this country for the government to rule there are certain political things certain people simply can’t say?" but that's not what's happening here. Preacher's are free to endorse a candidate so long as their church doesn't enjoy tax emept status. But once they accept the government's break, they are beholden to that one simple rule. Even then, they're free to support whatever political and social positions they so wish--just leave the specific candidates and their campaigns out of it. This seems entirely reasonable to me, and I'm a little baffled as to why the likes of the Alliance Defense Fund and McIlheran don't get it.

Separation of church and state works both ways: it keeps the government out of the pews, and, in theory, the pews out of the government. You can't have it both ways--accepting tax exempt status (the government out of your pockets) while simultaneously demanding to openly and actively meddle with who might run said government.

I hope the IRS does penalize these churches. We need to get back to maintaining some vague sense of balance. Lately it seems like organized religion has spread its fingers deep and wide into governmental affairs, whereas any attempts to back that off are met with allegations of persecution. It's ridiculous, and such ill-informed, published opinions on the matter like McIlheran's don't help at all.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pham-Remmele not feeling very welcoming

"We must not continue to welcome into Madison more at-risk populations from elsewhere because we will never have sufficient resources to provide for them." - Madison Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele, 20th District.

I'm aware that sentiments such as this one exist, but it's somewhat rare to see them laid so bare, and by an elected official, no less. And I couldn't disagree with it more.

A skirmish of sorts has broken out between Pham-Remmele and those who advocate for more affordable housing and public services, the result of an email sent by Madison Police Captain Jay Lengfeld (West District) to Pham-Remmele. In it, Lengfeld argues that:
1. The City needs to reduce or freeze the number of subsidized housing units in the city. The at risk population in Madison has exceeded the ability of service provides to service them.

2. The City needs to license landlords, so we have citywide standards and can weed out the bad ones.

3. Landlords need more protection to deny applicants with a history of bad behavior. The Russett Rd shooting is a prefect example: a family was evicted from an address on the Southside for behavior reasons and within weeks they had the same bad behavior in the Russett Rd area. We are now evicting them from Russett, but I am sure they will find housing somewhere else in the city and bring the same problems to that neighborhood.
At first blush, I think most folks would agree that landlords should be able to better screen out bad tenants. But, according to Ald. Brenda Konkel, they already do have that ability under the law, so Lengfeld's point seems redundant. Konkel further breaks down his arguments, going on to note that:
1. The City hasn't increased its subsidized housing stock in, um, years. CDA hasn't built any new public housing units since the 1970's and the section 8 program hasn't added any Section 8 vouchers since the 1990s.

2. Landlords have all the ability in the world to deny tenants for bad behavior and eviction records. They simply have to do landlord reference checks and check CCAP.

3. There is no money in the City budget for increased community services to help service providers because we gave it all to the police department last year for their 30 new officers to deal with these problems. You can't have it both ways, do we need police to solve these problems or services?
I'd be curious to look over just what money is and is not allocated in the City budget for community services, and what, if any, those services are. But otherwise, Konkel makes some good points. We poured a ton of money into adding 30 new officers to the rolls--which still seems pretty excessive to me--and now Lengfeld's complaining that that's not enough. Since we clearly don't have the money to both add lots of officers and increase city services, we should maybe be spending more time figuring out which is the better investment. Me? I suspect we could have met in the middle, adding a smaller number of new officers and somewhat better funding for community services.

Law enforcement is important, but it doesn't solve everything. We need to work harder at preventing crimes in the first place, and a lot of that relies on making sure all of our citizens, at-risk or otherwise, are well served: good schools, affordable housing, accessible daycare, respite centers, job training, and after school programs are all good examples.

Simply saying "stop letting at-risk people move here!" does not solve the problem, and likely just makes things worse by demonizing an entire population and forcing them to pool in areas that don't have services. Then the cycle just tends to continue, with little progress for anyone.

Happily, I'm not the only one who's more than a little put off by Pham-Remmele's comments. But we need more voices chiming in, from all sides, so we can better devise good solutions and tactics for tackling what is a very complex--and very crucial--issue.
The Lost Albatross