Fighting (Bob) words

I bet this opinion from RightWisconsin will stir up the lefties:

Wisconsin may not have statues dedicated to leaders of the Confederacy (we were on the good side), but we have a suggestion of a statue in desperate need of being taken down.

It’s time for the statue of Robert La Follette at the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol to come down. While we’re at it, let’s remove the bust of La Follette from the Capitol in Madison as well. There will be protests. But let’s face it, the Progressive Era is over. Thank God.

Wisconsin is now a red state, won fairly by former Governor Tommy Thompson (three times), Governor Scott Walker (three times) and President Donald Trump. We re-elected a conservative senator in a presidential year, Ron Johnson, when every pundit said it couldn’t be done. The majority of our representation to Congress is conservative. Conservatives control the state Assembly and the state Senate with record numbers, and conservatives even control the state Supreme Court 5-2.

Ironically, the only remaining Democratic statewide office-holder is Doug La Follette, a poor relation and a pale shadow of the La Follettes past.

So why continue to honor Robert La Follette? Seriously, who would miss him?

Let’s start with the statue in Washington. Wisconsin has two statues at the U.S. Capitol, one of Fr. Jacques Marquette and the other of La Follette. La Follette is actually the only Wisconsin statue in National Statuary Hall while Marquette is somewhere else sulking about the lost Catholic mission of the university named after him.

To get rid of the La Follette statue, all it would take is for the Wisconsin legislature to pass a resolution, with the governor’s approval, suggesting an alternative. Then Congress’ Joint Committee on the Library would approve it and, voila, no more monument to Progressive politics. Given Republican control of Congress, how could they say no?

We can replace La Follette with a more deserving representative of Wisconsin: Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a native of Shorewood, WI. Rehnquist served for 33 years on the Supreme Court, 19 as Chief Justice. His role in shaping the conservative direction of the court is a legacy worth remembering for all time, and Wisconsin should be proud to have a statue of the Chief Justice representing the state in our nation’s Capitol.

As for the bust of La Follette in the state Capitol, the state should just box it up and send it to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Future tours of school children can play guess who is the grumpy old man. If we have to replace it, who better to honor than former Governor Tommy Thompson?

La Follette was Wisconsin’s governor and a U.S. senator, a presidential candidate, father of another governor and senator (and grandfather of former attorney general Bronson La Follette) and one of those atop the Progressive Era. The high school I went to has Fighting Bob’s bust in its library. (Why the La Follette teams were called the Lancers and not the Fighting Bobs is not something I can explain.)

About La Follette’s progressivism, a comment on RightWisconsin’s Facebook page says:

Yes. La Follette was one of the first communists to advocate stealing your money and mine to buy votes.

The Progressive Era is taught as a period in which government went back to the people instead of the moneyed interests, through, for instance, the 17th Amendment allowing direct election of U.S. senators instead of having them chosen by state legislatures, and primary elections instead of party candidates chosen in smoke-filled rooms. The latter process gave us Donald Trump. (Just saying.) The former is a favorite target of conservatives, but is unlikely to follow the 18th Amendment and be removed from the Constitution.

RightWisconsin doesn’t say why Fighting Bob should be condemned to the treatment of disfavored Soviet Union leaders, other than that, well, liberals aren’t in power in state government. (Despite one of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators and three of its U.S. representatives.) Political power comes and goes. Recall that the state Legislature swung from Republican control through most of the 2000s to Democratic control after the 2008 elections and then back to GOP control after the 2010 elections. It seems unlikely, to say the least, that Democrats will repeat their 2008 feat, but in these turbulent political times it’s not impossible.

The lefties will not tell you the numerous negatives of progressives, partly because self-analysis is not a strength of theirs, as shown in their post-2016 circular firing squad. The core belief of progressives from La Follette’s day is that man can be improved, and government and experts are the people to do it, and should have the authority to mandate improvement.

Whether or not you like primary elections, that accomplishment pales in comparison to the income tax, designed to separate people from their money to feed Govzilla on the concept that, yes, government and its experts know better than you what you need and what society needs.

If they only stopped there. Let’s go to Princeton University:

After the largest recession in history, a political movement comprising mostly white, small-town, Protestant voters grabbed the reins of power from elites under the banner of making America great.

Sound like 2016? Try 1900. And these weren’t conservatives. These were progressives. “They described it as a revolution, the likes of which the world had never seen,” says Thomas Leonard, a research scholar in the Humanities Council and a lecturer in economics at Princeton and author of Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era(Princeton University Press). While corporations were checked and progressive presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson 1879 were voted in, the Progressive Era — 1900 to 1920 — was marred by a darker history of racism and xenophobia among its politicians. …

Leonard shows, however, that their policies were undergirded by social Darwinism and eugenics and excluded groups deemed inferior — including women, Southern- and Eastern-European immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and blacks.

“They wanted to help ‘the people,’ but excluded millions of Americans from that privileged category on the grounds that they were inferior,” he says.

Progressives pushed for voter registration, literacy tests, and poll taxes to mitigate fraud and corruption, bolstering the Jim Crow South. In 1913, they proposed a minimum wage to benefit skilled Anglo-Saxon workers by requiring immigrants to prove they had a job paying that wage to enter the country.

Thomas Sowell adds:

An influential 1916 best-seller, ‘‘The Passing of the Great Race” — celebrating Nordic Europeans — was written by Madison Grant, a staunch activist for Progressive causes such as endangered species, municipal reform, conservation and the creation of national parks.

He was a member of an exclusive social club founded by Republican Progressive Theodore Roosevelt, and Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt became friends in the 1920s, addressing one another in letters as ‘‘My dear Frank” and ‘‘My dear Madison.’‘ Grant’s book was translated into German, and Adolf Hitler called it his Bible. …

Progressive intellectuals who crusaded against the admission of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, branding them as genetically inferior, included many prominent academic scholars — such as heads of such scholarly organizations as the American Economic Association and the American Sociological Association.

Southern segregationists who railed against blacks were often also Progressives who railed against Wall Street. …

Wilson introduced racial segregation into the government agencies where it didn’t exist at the time, while Republican President Calvin Coolidge’s wife invited the wives of black congressmen to the White House. As late as 1957, civil-rights legislation was sponsored in Congress by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.

Later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was sponsored by Democrats, a higher percentage of congressional Republicans voted for it than did congressional Democrats. Revisionist histories tell a different story. But, as Casey Stengel used to say, ‘‘You could look it up” — in the Congressional Record, in this case.

Another progressive was Margaret Sanger, who said …

“The third group [of society] are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped.”

“Birth control is not contraception indiscriminately and thoughtlessly practiced. It means the release and cultivation of the better racial elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extirpation of defective stocks— those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.”

“I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world that have disease from their parents, that have no chance to be a human being, practically. Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they’re born. That to me is the greatest sin — that people can — can commit.”

“As an advocate of birth control I wish … to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit,’ admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation…. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.”

Two progressives with Wisconsin ties were fans of eugenics as well.  John R. Comons, an advisor to La Follette, was described thusly here:

One result of our study is that, in his analysis of institutional dynamics in the United States, Commons’ rejection of laissez-faire is derived from a racist analytical framework: the “superior races” should be protected from the “inferior races”. Another result is that Commons adopts a neo-Lamarckian framework which takes education as the basis for the assimilation of “inferior races”. This article then shows that policies often defended as progressives, as education policies, may be derived from racist foundations.

A Wisconsin State Journal story about the strange history of Alma includes this:

And even a University of Wisconsin luminary such as Charles Van Hise, as president of the university, gave lectures in which he supported eugenics as a way to conserve human resources. He said that “as a first very moderate step toward the development of the stamina of the human race, defectives should be precluded from continuing the race by some proper method.”

La Follette’s position on eugenics is unknown. There is considerable evidence that La Follette didn’t have the same racist views as other progressives. However, his economic views are not an endorsement of the progressive era. Christian Schneider in 2012 chronicled progressivism:

“I believed then, as I believe now, that the only salvation for the Republican Party lies in purging itself wholly from the influence of financial interests,” wrote La Follette in his autobiography. But after 112 years of La Follette’s Progressive vision coming to fruition, it is worth considering: What now constitutes the state’s most powerful “financial interest”?

Government unions are a good place to start. While things like “public sector unions” and “women voting” were still dreams when La Follette was governor from 1901 to 1906, government unions now spend more than any other single group to affect campaigns in Wisconsin. And this spending is rarely intended to forge a new Progressive vision in Wisconsin. It is generally used to protect what the unions already have. …

One of La Follette’s many sworn enemies, Republican Gov. Edward Scofield, dismissed his rage against the party “machine” in 1900, predicting that government would one day become the same type of machine La Follette purportedly loathed. …

And in 2012, it was that machine of 284,963 Wisconsin state and local government employees and their spouses who sought to recall Scott Walker from the governorship, thereby attempting to overturn a popular election held little more than a year earlier. (The recall election is also a product of the Progressives, having been added to the state constitution in 1926 by La Follette loyalists.)

In his time as governor, La Follette could not have imagined the breadth and scope to which government would grow in Wisconsin. In 1899, the state spent $4.7 million on everything, from public education to universities, to the court system, to “insane county asylums.” (About 32 percent of all government was funded by railroad license fees.) That amounts to $121.5 million in 2012 dollars, or $58.73 per capita. This year, Wisconsin state government is scheduled to raise and spend around $32.4 billion, or $5,696.52 per capita.

The imposition of the nation’s first income tax in 1911 — and the commensurate revenue it produced — sparked an inexorable 100-year march toward government as the state’s largest employer:

Even in the past 35 years, government has become the primary employer for more and more Wisconsin citizens. Today, 71,552 more Wisconsinites are employed by state and local governments than in 1976, an increase of 33 percent.

All those new government jobs came with a cost; especially once Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed the nation’s first law allowing public sector collective bargaining in 1959. Within a decade, unionized teachers were participating in illegal strikes to force higher salaries and better benefits. As a result, Wisconsin passed a new landmark mediation-arbitration law that virtually guaranteed that teacher compensation couldn’t be cut.

Geographical-pattern bargaining strategies were perfected by the teachers union, forcing school districts to match the gaudy compensation packages passed in comparable districts around the state. By 2011, state government employee salary and benefit packages averaged $71,000. In the Milwaukee school district, average employee compensation soared to more than $100,000 per employee — for nine months of work.

In recent decades, the growth in the cost of government has exceeded the growth in the state’s economic output. In 1980, state spending accounted for 12.9 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. By 2010, that number had grown to 16.2 percent of Wisconsin’s GDP:

The financial cost to taxpayers is just the beginning. Bob La Follette stood on hundreds of stages, wagons and soapboxes upbraiding railroads for their monopolistic practices. The railroads, he argued, preyed on the public, soaked customers for excessive fees, then turned around and bought legislators with campaign contributions.

But now that party standard-bearers are picked through primary elections (thanks to “Fighting Bob”) and not backroom dealings, the most powerful monopoly that still exists can be found in the state’s public education system. …

It isn’t incumbent on you, as a Progressive, to learn that after two unsuccessful gubernatorial runs, Robert La Follette’s third campaign was funded almost entirely by wealthy U.S. Rep. Joseph Babcock, who thought bankrolling La Follette would catapult himself into the U.S. Senate. According to author Robert S. Maxwell, in  La Follette and the Rise of Progressives in Wisconsin:

“La Follette also received valuable assistance from the leader of the congressional delegation, Joseph W. Babcock. This politically ambitious ex-lumberman had already served four terms in Congress and was seeking a larger field for his talents. He was quite aware of the disintegration of the Republican organization and sought to organize the machine to advance his own interests. Babcock was sure that his support of a La Follette ticket would be both popular and successful. It is probable that he thought he would be able to control the new governor and use the state organization to elevate himself to the senatorship.

“Events were to prove that he misjudged his candidate completely and vastly overestimated his own abilities, but during the campaign of 1900, Babcock’s financial assistance and organizing skill contributed greatly to its success.”

You aren’t expected to know that La Follette, in his 1900 campaign, completely changed course and positioned himself as a pro-corporate candidate to earn the approval of the public. When one supporter urged La Follette to talk about regulating railroad fees, La Follette bristled because of the backlash it might cause. …

You are also supposed to forget the black marks of Progressivism: the virulently racist eugenics of La Follette’s handpicked president of the University of Wisconsin, Charles Van Hise, who once said, “He who thinks not of himself primarily, but of his race and of its future, is the new patriot.” You have to forget that Progressives played a part in foisting Prohibition on the nation, an unforeseen effect of which was people either blinding or killing themselves by drinking substitute alcohol made of chemicals such as paint thinner.

What about La Follette and prohibition? La Follette and His Legacy, written by the UW–Madison La Follette Institute of Public Affairs, wrote:

Elected and reelected as Dane County District Attorney, he enhanced his reputation by doggedly prosecuting all types of offenders, especially drunkards and vagrants. Espousing the Republican belief in hard work to achieve self-sufficiency, La Follette had no sympathy for the lawbreakers.
But he also didn’t advocate any stiffer laws regarding alcohol use. Throughout his political career he avoided the divisive prohibition issue and instead concentrated on what he felt to be more weighty problems-oppression of individuals by powerful corporations, undemocratic decisionmaking and corruption in government, and foreign military actions by the national government.

What Fighting Bob hath wrought is almost all negative. Bigger government has gotten us less freedom. Replacing the supposed monopoly power of wealth with the actual monopoly power of government is not an improvement. If you don’t believe in individual freedom, then it’s easy to take the next step and oppose freedom for those who don’t look like you. (Labor unions have opposed free trade and immigration for decades because they believed foreign-born workers would drag down their members’ wages.) The primary election, which seemed like a good idea at the time, gave us Donald Trump, and yet in the Democratic Party the smoke-filled rooms still gave Democrat Hillary Clinton, not the alleged people’s choice, Bernie Sanders. Prohibition gave us organized crime, and if La Follette didn’t go out of his way to support Prohibition, there is no evidence he publicly opposed it, in a state full of breweries.

I don’t support the whitewashing of history. Maybe La Follette’s bust should remain public view, but there needs to be a better explanation of how the Progressive Era was a step backward for this state and this nation.


The (more than) 50 states and (fewer than) 72 counties

Something called The Jack News writes:

A recent lawsuit in the Golden State has brought attention to an interesting, and mostly ignored, problem: California is simply too large of a state. …

But the lawsuit raises an enticing possibility: Has the time come to add more stars to Old Glory by breaking up the union’s biggest states?

Splitting Up States

Most discussion about potential new states, focus on the longstanding desires of America’s two most populous non-state territories: The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Statehood is a divisive question in Puerto Rico, however, and the status of the nation’s capital city raises complicated questions of sovereignty that could likely only be solved by constitutional amendment.

Creating new states out of existing ones, on the other hand, has a long history. The framers of the Constitution included a clause specifically allowing for it, with the consent of both Congress and the state or states concerned. Vermont, Kentucky, Maine, and West Virginia were all carved out from existing states using this method.

Consent for West Virginia was, controversially, granted by the “restored” unionist government of Virginia during the height of the Civil War, but the legitimacy of that move has been long-settled. In each of the other cases, state legislatures responded to public demand by giving their consent, and Congress dutifully obliged. By exercise of democratic consent, America’s sovereign states can divide themselves, and sometimes they have.

Goldilocks States

Proposed movements to split existing states have a wide history; but not all such proposals have much chance of gaining traction. Adding a new member to the union requires not just the consent of the state being broken up, but also Congress, and Congress has usually had some broad principles in mind.

The first, and most important consideration, is population. As the United States expanded westward across the continent, Congress always required a minimum population before a territory could apply for statehood. Since becoming a state comes with two senators and at least one representative regardless of population, Congress is unlikely to ever approve a state less populous than the current 50thlargest, Wyoming (585,501 as of 2016). This also happens to be reasonably close to the size of the average U.S. House district, which is just over 700,000.

That rules out most of America’s territories outside of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, since the largest, Guam, has just under 160,000 residents. It likewise makes unlikely proposals like Superior, to make a new state from the upper peninsula of Michigan, or splitting a state like Colorado, which ranks 22nd in population of the states. The resulting states simply would not have enough people to justify the Constitution’s minimum federal representation.

The Big Five

Because of this aversion to low-population states, it is probable that only the nation’s largest and most populous states would be eligible for partition. Those also happen to be the states were movements for partition have been strongest, and a serious topic of debate over the years.

The five most-populated states and their 2016 population are, in order: California (39 million), Texas (27 million), Florida (20 million), New York (19 million), and Illinois (12 million). All are good potential candidates to carve out newer, smaller states.


California already hosts the oldest and most persistent partition movement, the would-be “State of Jefferson” that aspires to encompass far-northern California as well as adjacent parts of southern Oregon. There is also a persistent split between the central part of the state, centered around the Bay Area, and southern California centered around Los Angeles.

A recent proposal to split California into six states ended up failing and folding, largely because six was too ambitious a number, and the proposed borders too arbitrary. A state split into the three parts, however (with the northernmost possibly picking up part of Oregon) would neatly follow the existing political and cultural divisions.

Jefferson already has a suitable name, and several counties in the region have approved of it in referendums. There are many potential options for naming the other two; but for simplicity’s sake let’s call them North California and South California. Alternately, geographical features like “Sierra” or “Mojave” could provide each with a fresh start and a distinct identity.


Texas is unique in a lot of ways, but one of the most unusual is an obscure bit of trivia tucked into the joint resolution annexing the then-independent Republic of Texas in 1845. In order to sweeten the deal, Congress offered its pre-approval to for Texas to split itself into as many as five states.

Whether or not that offer still stands is unclear and debated among constitutional scholars. Texas has seen many partition proposals, but none ultimately overcame the state’s uniquely strong sense of identity.

The sprawling state encompasses many distinct regions; but the most common proposals have centered around the southwest portion of the state nearest the Mexican border. After the Civil War, it was briefly proposed to create a state named Lincoln from the parts of Texas between the Rio Grande and the Colorado River, roughly dividing the state in half.

A similar modern proposal, could perhaps result in a state of Rio Grande, extending from Brownsville to El Paso, and with its capital in San Antonio. The result would leave the more predominately Latino and Democratic parts of the state, free to govern themselves without being dominated by the rest of Texas’s overwhelming Republican supermajority.


Florida is another state where the cultural and political divide is stark between two regions: the predominantly conservative and Republican northern half of the state, versus the more Hispanic and Democratic south centered around Miami.

The idea of division has attracted enough support to be endorsed by county legislators in Ft. Lauderdale, and a handful of state legislators. It’s less clear where the border would be drawn. Which side would get Orlando, Tampa, and Cape Canaveral?

Central Florida is a culturally mixed region, politically purple, and home to some of the state’s most famous and valuable assets. While residents of the conservative panhandle on the one hand, and liberal Miami on the other, might relish being free of the other, there is no clear dividing line between them. Where exactly to draw the border, would probably end up being a contentious, and potentially unsolvable question.

If a fair border could be agreed upon, America’s most famous swing state might instead become one reliably red state and one reliably blue state. A repeat of the 2000 election fiasco, where a few hundred votes decided the state and thus the presidency, would be very unlikely.

New York

The Empire State has always housed two very distinct regions: the metropolis in and around New York City, and the rural bulk of the state’s landmass that has become known as Upstate New York.

On both sides of that divide, frustrations run high and proposals for a split have been persistent for decades. Upstaters chafe at the domination the city exercises by having the majority of the population, while residents of the five boroughs have little connection to places like Buffalo and Rochester.

If there is any metropolis that can make the case for its own statehood, it would be New York City’s eight million inhabitants. Extending that to include Long Island and the adjacent counties immediately north of the city, would push the population north of ten million.

Which half would get to keep the name “New York” could be debated, but to avoid confusion it would probably be best if that name stuck with the city that shares it. The rural rest of the state, perhaps picking a new name based on geography or the local Native American tribes, could govern itself without being overshadowed by the metropolitan neighbors. The state of Adirondack, or Mohawk, or Erie, or Hudson, could even put the question up to vote. After all, “upstate” would no longer work as a description.


Illinois suffers from a similar dynamic as New York: a single dominating metropolis at one end, split from the predominantly rural and politically conservative rest of the state. Chicago’s sense of identity is drastically distinct from the rest of Illinois, to the degree that the city’s distinctive flag is a much more common sight on its streets than Illinois’s banner.

Partition already has a degree of perennial support, with legislators from both Chicago and “downstate” introducing bills to that effect in the legislature. The political calculus is obvious: Democrats who dominate Chicago could firmly control any new state built around it, and Republicans consigned to permanent minority status in southern and central Illinois would instead have a solidly red state to govern.

It’s not just politics, of course. There is a real social and cultural divide between diverse and cosmopolitan Chicago, and the vast stretches of small towns and farmland that occupy the rest of Illinois.

A recent survey even found that Illinois was the only state where a majority of its residents said they would move to a different state if they could. They might just have that option, without having to move at all. Like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Illinois and Chicago could go through a velvet divorce that leaves both happier.

Two by two in the Senate

In the era before the Civil War, it was common practice to admit new free states and new slave states together in pairs, to maintain the precarious balance of power in the Senate. That is a practice that could be revived in the 21st Century, albeit in the much less troublesome context of partisan politics, instead of human bondage.

Past election results provide an easy and fairly reliable guide to guess the partisan tilt of any new state. Pairing likely-Republican and likely-Democratic states would be necessary to secure bipartisan buy-in at all levels of the decision, and solid majorities in favor in both the state and national legislatures.

The State of Jefferson, for example, would most likely give its two Senate seats as well as its electoral votes to the GOP. Splitting the rest of California in two, would produce two Democratic states from what had previously been one. Thus the net effect would be to add two Senators for both parties.

Florida, currently has one Republican Senator and one Democratic Senator. A split state would, most likely, send two from each party, for a neutral net effect. This same calculations can be played out elsewhere. Two new Republican Senators from upstate New York, could balance two new Democratic Senators from southwest Texas.

That kind of partisan horse-trading might sound unseemly, but it could be the necessary grease to arrive at a good policy result: state governments that are more representative, effectively providing localized laboratories of democracy. More states means more experimentation, and a stronger sense of federalism across the country.

There’s nothing magic about 50 states and 100 senators. It’s more than time for us to reopen the political debate about state sizes. Admitting six new states into the union, for the first time since 1959, would solve a multitude of state problems without upsetting our current national political balance.

David Blaska suggests the opposite, and has a map to match:

No county has ever merged with another. Now, apparently, Ozaukee and Washington Counties are raising the possibility. Both counties are populous (Ozaukee: 88,314; Washington: 134,296). Both counties are wealthy Republican exurbs of Greater Milwaukee. Which means they recognize the value of a dollar and are not in thrall to More and Bigger Gummint.

WTMJ-4 reports that Washington County, faced with budget troubles, is “thinking out of the box [including] dissolving county lines and completely merging with Ozaukee County.

“I know that if we go down this path, that guys like me don’t have a job but I’m good with that,” the Washington County administrator said.

His County has already saved $300,000 by merging its health department with Ozaukee and another hundred grand merging with the Waukesha County medical examiner.

The Washington County Administrator sent a letter to four of its neighboring counties, letting them know about their fiscal health status.

Of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, 71 had been formed by 1901 when most people moved by horseback. The Menominee reservation was carved out of Oconto and Shawano counties in 1959 to create its own county, in an experiment that failed. It was intended to wean it off reservation status but 35% of the 4,533 population are mired in poverty. Florence County (population: 4,423)  and Menomonee (population: 4,232) are the two-least populous counties and have not a single incorporated village or city. For comparison purposes, Dane County is home to 531,273 (2010 Census).

The stickler is that all counties must provide the same array of services: law enforcement, roads, courts, health, general welfare, property records, etc. It’s a matter of economy of scale.

No county has ever merged, but they can

State law, specifically Chapter 59.08, provides for “consolidation” of counties, which is put to referendum. Let’s explore consolidation in low-population southwest Wisconsin, now divided among Grant (population: 52,214), Iowa (population: 23,654), and Lafayette (population: 16,753) for a combined 92,621. Lafayette was cleaved from Iowa County in 1846. You could argue: leave Grant alone. It’s large and fairly populous, but let’s go with the three-fer for this example.

County boards would take the lead. But if Lafayette’s county board remained silent, for instance, voters could petition for a referendum in their county. If its board still dragged its heels, a judge would appoint five citizens to work out the details with the merger partners. If the referendum on consolidation fails in any one of the counties, the whole deal goes down. Although long state law, no county has ever merged. Instead, most of our counties were cleaved from existing counties — originally just three in 1818: Crawford in the west, Brown in the east, and (encompassing the far north and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) Michilimackinac.

The hard, cold numbers may argue for consolidation but emotions could scuttle the whole thing. First, what to call the new, consolidated county? Nothing wrong with “Iowa-Lafayette” county unless the Lafayetters insist on “Lafayette-Iowa.” You see the problem! But the three-county merger we have imagined includes Grant County. That calls for a completely new, neutral name. “Driftless County”? “Lead County”?

Who gets the courthouse?

But it raises the question even more likely to sabotage merger than the consolidated county’s name: which city gets the county seat?

That question is particularly poignant in our three southwest county seats. Lancaster, Dodgeville, and Darlington have glorious old courthouses and, frankly, not a whole lot else going for them. Could some functions continue in each courthouse? The law specifies that the courts be consolidated at the county seat. But could the referendum specify all three as county seats? Our reading of 59.08 does not seem to rule out that possibility.

Existing sheriff’s facilities could continue as precinct houses. Dane County has three such sheriff’s precincts outside of Madison. If new, modern jails would required, the merged county would need build only one, not three.

We could find no authorization to carve up one county between two neighbors, even though it would seem to make sense in some cases.

i am a resident of one of those indigo-colored counties (or is that periwinkie?), which, I was told upon full-time arrival 29 years ago, was larger than the state of Rhode Island. Since Blaska concedes that maybe Grant County shouldn’t be part of Tri-Indigo County, reuniting Iowa and Lafayette counties (the latter was created from the former before statehood), that would create a county larger in land area than Grant County, and yet would be smaller in population.

An outstanding weekly newspaper carried Blaska’s column and the editor’s brilliant response. (Beginning with the possibly surprising fact that Wisconsin has fewer counties than all our neighbors.) Whether or not you like Blaska’s idea generally or map specifically, certainly this state needs fewer, not more, lines between providers of government services. My favorite (if you want to call it that) example is the Fox Cities, which runs roughly from Neenah to Kankauna and includes parts of three counties, four cities, four villages, seven towns and several police departments and fire departments, despite the fact that two houses next to each other in the same neighborhood could be in different municipalities. The Fox Cities is a demonstration of how, if not why, this state has 3,120 units of government, second only to Illinois.

Somewhere in the mists of time is probably evidence that I once proposed merging towns that include cities within the original town boundaries — such as the City of Ripon and the Town of Ripon given that the latter has a police department whose purpose is only to generate town revenue by writing speeding tickets. Of course, people live in towns instead of cities because the former has something the latter lacks in their opinion. Usually, lower taxes.

The tricky subject is getting politicians to voluntarily merge their units of government and thus lose some of their political power. It’s not very federalist to mandate, for instance, Blaska’s map(re)making. But having 3,120 units of government fits no one’s definition of good government.


Free speech and Charlottesville


A group of vile racists in Charlottesville, VA, planned a rally for Saturday, “Unite the Right,” in part to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The protest was met predictably by a counter-protest, including by members of the “Antifa” movement, the left’s violent protest wing.

The Charlottesville newspaper, The Daily Progress, has the best description of the events of Saturday. We strongly recommend everyone read it to learn how both sides were prepared for violence. It’s still unclear how the violence broke out, although by most accounts the police were inadequate to the task of keeping the two sides separate. Given the desire for both sides for a confrontation, it was probably expecting too much of the police to keep order completely, and the city did try to change the venue to make the rally safer.

As the violence escalated, a state of emergency was declared and the rally, comprised of the KKK, Nazis, the “alt-Right,” and other racists, was canceled. Unfortunately, the violence didn’t end.

A young man from Ohio, James Fields, allegedly intentionally drove his car into the crowd of demonstrators, killing at least one person and injuring 19 others, an act of terrorism similar to terror vehicle attacks elsewhere. He is currently charged with second degree murder.

The day’s tragedies continued with the crash of a helicopter containing two state troopers who were monitoring the events on the ground. Both were killed.

The lesson some would draw from the events of Saturday is that free speech is too high a price to pay, that Nazis and other racists should not be allowed to have free speech, or for that matter anyone that the left deems unacceptable. Glenn Greenwald has an article in The Intercept defending the ACLU and its defense of the rally planners in Charlottesville after the city council tried to move the rally. As the article points out, the ACLU is no friend to the racist organizers of the rally, but they recognized (just as they famously did in Skokie, IL) that defending the right to unpopular, even racist hate speech, is defending the right to all speech. Unfortunately, that understanding, always fragile in America, is rapidy becoming lost.

And, on cue, groups like One Wisconsin Now (OWN) are already using the violence in Charlottesville to attack a bill in the Wisconsin legislature that would protect free speech on college campuses by punishing those that would disrupt the free speech of others. Of course, OWN is mischaracterizing the bill, claiming it would punish people for protesting. It does not. It only punishes those would try to prevent others from speaking.

Republican legislators should not be cowed by this tactic of a political left that wishes to preserve their ability to decide what speech can and cannot be protected, expressing that power through mob violence. As liberal writer Peter Beinart in the Atlantic points out, “Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation.”

The real lesson of Charlottesville is that racist speech should be condemned loudly and often, but confronting the racist organizations with violence is not the answer. Because, as Beinart also points out, while attempting to suppress racist speech through violence, the left is becoming racism’s greatest ally in spreading the hate. The “alt-right” will just attract more adherents convinced that their speech needs to be defended by violence, too. In the escalating political fire, the First Amendment freedoms we cherish are those that will be at risk.

On ________ Americans

The Wall Street Journal:

As ever in this age of Donald Trump, politicians and journalists are reducing the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday to a debate over Mr. Trump’s words and intentions. That’s a mistake no matter what you think of the President, because the larger poison driving events like those in Virginia is identity politics and it won’t go away when Mr. Trump inevitably does.

The particular pathology on display in Virginia was the white nationalist movement led today by the likes of Richard Spencer, David Duke and Brad Griffin. They alone are to blame for the violence that occurred when one of their own drove a car into peaceful protesters, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others.

The Spencer crowd courts publicity and protests, and they chose the progressive university town of Charlottesville with malice aforethought. They used the unsubtle Ku Klux Klan symbolism of torches in a Friday night march, and they seek to appear as political martyrs as a way to recruit more alienated young white men.

Political conservatives even more than liberals need to renounce these racist impulses, and the good news is that this is happening. The driver has been charged with murder under Virginia law, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened a federal civil-rights investigation and issued a statement condemning the violence: “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.” Many prominent conservatives also denounced the white-nationalist movement.

Mr. Trump was widely criticized for his initial statement Saturday afternoon that condemned the hatred “on many sides” but failed to single out the white nationalists. Notably, David Duke and his allies read Mr. Trump’s statement as attacking them and criticized the President for doing so.

The White House nonetheless issued a statement Sunday saying Mr. Trump “includes white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups” in his condemnation. As so often with Mr. Trump, his original statement missed an opportunity to speak like a unifying political leader.

Yet the focus on Mr. Trump is also a cop-out because it lets everyone duck the deeper and growing problem of identity politics on the right and left. The politics of white supremacy was a poison on the right for many decades, but the civil-rights movement rose to overcome it, and it finally did so in the mid-1960s with Martin Luther King Jr. ’s language of equal opportunity and color-blind justice.

That principle has since been abandoned, however, in favor of a new identity politics that again seeks to divide Americans by race, ethnicity, gender and even religion. “Diversity” is now the all-purpose justification for these divisions, and the irony is that America is more diverse and tolerant than ever.

The problem is that the identity obsessives want to boil down everything in American life to these categories. In practice this means allocating political power, contracts, jobs and now even salaries in the private economy based on the politics of skin color or gender rather than merit or performance. Down this road lies crude political tribalism, and James Damore’s recent Google dissent is best understood as a cri de coeur that we should aspire to something better. Yet he lost his job merely for raising the issue.

A politics fixated on indelible differences will inevitably lead to resentments that extremists can exploit in ugly ways on the right and left. The extremists were on the right in Charlottesville, but there have been examples on the left in Berkeley, Oakland and numerous college campuses. When Democratic politicians can’t even say “all lives matter” without being denounced as bigots, American politics has a problem.

Mr. Trump didn’t create this identity obsession even if as a candidate he did try to exploit it. He is more symptom than cause, though as President he now has a particular obligation to renounce it. So do other politicians. Yet the only mission of nearly every Democrat we observed on the weekend was to use the “white supremacist” cudgel against Mr. Trump—as if that is the end of the story.

It isn’t, and it won’t be unless we confront this underlying politics of division. Not long ago we were rereading Justice Clarence Thomas’s prophetic opinion in Holder v. Hall, a 1994 Supreme Court ruling on dividing voting districts by race.

“As a practical political matter,” he wrote, “our drive to segregate political districts by race can only serve to deepen racial divisions by destroying any need for voters or candidates to build bridges between racial groups or to form voting coalitions.” Writ large, Justice Thomas was warning that identity politics can destroy democratic trust and consent.

Or put a different way 50 years ago …

Blue and bad government

Daniel Henninger could be writing in some respects about Milwaukee and Madison:

This is the summer of ’17 for people who live in politically blue northern cities, but few would call it the best days of their lives.

New Yorkers are living through the “Summer of Hell,” the phrase that defines a city whose ancient transportation infrastructure has finally hit the wall. It’s hard to say who got the worst of it—the commuters trapped for 45 minutes without air or lights on a southbound F train or the riders in Harlem who were evacuated after the tracks caught fire.

Naturally, Mayor Bill de Blasio says the solution is a $700 million tax increase on “the wealthiest in our city.”

In Chicago, more than 100 people were shot over July Fourth weekend, with 14 ending up dead. So naturally Mayor Rahm Emanuel has filed a sanctuary-cities lawsuit against the federal government to protect the city’s immigrants.

Hartford, Conn., at the brink of insolvency, last month hired a law firm specializing in bankruptcy. The owners of dozens of destroyed businesses sued the city of Baltimore in June for mishandling the mayhem, two years after the riots ended.

For decades, urban liberalism has sold itself as a compact between government and taxpayers. The people paid, and with that revenue liberal politicians would deliver infrastructure, services, economic opportunity and civil order. But liberal governance, instead of keeping its side of the bargain, is at a dead end.

Writing in City Journal last year on the widespread fiscal distress of northern cities, Stephen Eide noted a study which found that “among the 1,100 census tracts in major metropolitan areas with poverty rates of 30 percent or more in 1970, only about 100 had seen their poverty rates drop below the national average by 2010.”

Defenders of the liberal model argue that cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are changing into sophisticated, cosmopolitan hubs that attract a new class of young professionals who will restore urban America. Instead, many of these urban revivals are producing a phenomenon economists now call “racially concentrated areas of affluence,” or RCAAs.

An area gets RCAAed when the residents who pack themselves into it are mostly white people whose median incomes are unprecedentedly greater than the city’s poverty level. Some of the most RCAAed cities are liberal duchies like Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Economists for Citigroup have called cities like New York and San Francisco “plutonomies”—urban economies propped up by a plutocratic minority, which is to say, young professionals inured to both taxes and nearby poverty. But they vote their “consciences.”

Progressives are acutely aware of this embarrassing reality in cities under their control. A writer for In These Times identified the problem as “a lack of revenue caused by the refusal of Wall Street banks, big corporations and millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.” Put forth solutions, he said, “to make them pay.”

“Make them pay” might work if the U.S. were East Germany, so that the wealthy could be captured and jailed as they tried to escape across the border.

We’re not living yet under a President Sanders or Warren, so the steady, documented outflow of residents will continue from New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, California and New Jersey.

Many of those now climbing over the Democrats’ blue walls were willing to live under the original liberal governance model that existed before 1960 because it recognized the legitimacy of private economic life. The wealthy agreed then to pay their “fair share.”

Today, private economic life, especially that of the urban middle class, is no longer a partner in the liberal model. It’s merely a “revenue source” for a system whose patronage is open-ended welfare and largely uncapped public-employee pensions. I’d describe the liberal-progressive governing strategy as ruin and rule.

Not widely noticed is that liberalism’s claimed beneficiaries—black Americans—are also fleeing its failures. Demographers have documented significant black out-migration from New York, Michigan, California and Illinois into Florida, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. North to south.

Now comes the summer-of-hell infrastructure crisis. Residents of the northeastern slab from New Jersey to Boston have been living off infrastructure created by their grandparents and great-grandparents during the golden age of American capitalism.

They are now asking the federal government, meaning taxpayers who live in parts of the U.S. not hostile to capitalism, to give them nearly $15 billion to replace the 100-year-old train tunnel beneath the Hudson River. Why should they? Why send money to a moribund, dysfunctional urban liberal politics that will never—as in, not ever—clean up its act or reform?

Maybe we need a new default solution to the urban crisis: Let internal migration redistribute the U.S. population away from liberalism’s smug but falling-apart plutonomies.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 15

We begin with an interesting non-musical anniversary: Today in 1945, Major League Baseball sold the advertising rights for the World Series to Gillette for $150,000. Gillette for years afterward got to decide who the announcers for the World Series (typically one per World Series team in the days before color commentators) would be on first radio and then TV.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 15”


I was, perhaps ironically, at a concealed-carry class when news of what happened in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday started filtering out. (For those who don’t think it’s a dangerous world, that and Saturday night’s triple homicide at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove should disprove your mistaken belief.)

Facebook Friend Rick Esenberg had the two best thoughts I’ve seen on what happened:

I should think that the universal reaction to [Saturday’s] events ought be condemnation. It gets harder when we begin to muse about some larger meaning. My own sense is that we ought to think carefully about where identity politics takes us. I consider myself to be on the political “right” — at least as I understood that term prior to last year. To me, being on the right meant absolute equality before the law, individual freedom and limited government. It meant encouraging a robust civil society and a commitment to what I am not afraid to call Western values. It meant rejection of both the licentious and authoritarian tendencies of the “intersectional” left and the blood and soil nationalism and authoritarianism of the rightest parties of Europe. I don’t think Donald Trump is a champion of the “alt-right.” In fact, I don’t think that he represents anything in particular — he seems to have no firm convictions about anything – but is a product of disparate and conflicting forces. One of them, however, is a very different view of the American right – a view that is every bit as post-constitutional, illiberal and authoritarian as that which has come to characterize much of the American left. It is very much a product of the notion that we need a Saul Alinsky of the “right.” But the risk is that in trying to save our values — individualism, freedom, subsidiarity and a common morality that we root in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we wind up destroying them. I don’t think that Donald Trump has much — if anything — to do with what happened today in Virginia. What bothers me is that he does not understand what to do about it. …

I do not believe that Trump “empowered” the idiots in Virginia. But here’s what’s wrong with his statement in response. To be sure, the racist white nationalist march was constitutionally protected speech. For those who do not understand why that is so, I’d be happy to explain. But that does not mean that it is within the bounds of respectable political discourse. Its a marginal movement that gets more attention that it’s numbers warrant. But it’s no less vile for that. Referring to it as part of “all sides” of our political community confers a certain respectability that it does not deserve. Doing so also reflects a certain studied tone deafness on his part. I am not prepared to call Trump a racist or a tool of the Russians. But, knowing that many people feel that he is both, he has still has this bad habit of behaving in ways that feed their beliefs. An obstreperous guy writing on FB can do that, but a President should not.

Facebook Friend Ken Gardner adds:

Fundamentally, the neo-Nazis who marched in Virginia over the weekend, the Bernie nut who tried to assassinate GOP Congressmen, the Berkeley riots, and the rest of them — on all sides of the political spectrum — are all the same people. They are all wannabe authoritarians and collectivists who are filled with hate for anyone who does not belong to their favored groups. They hate disagreement and crave both attention and obedience backed up by violence and threats of violence.

 But Facebook Friend Tim Nerenz adds:
Here is what I learned about America over the weekend. After 6 months of organization and promotion, the “largest white supremacist gathering in decades” drew only several hundred sick puppies from around the country on Saturday. Several hundred. And on Sunday, 52 million Americans went to church – where everyone is welcomed and we all drink from the same cup. 62 million Americans volunteer in any given year, and 83% of American adults give to charity. And 145 million Americans went to work today – where people of every race, gender, ethnicity, religious belief, orientation, and ability get along just fine. America is not those few hundreds who hate; it is those tens of millions who don’t. Let’s keep our perspective.

If this offends you, too bad for you

Jon Gabriel:

Outrage is the currency of modern America. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “An extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.”

Every day, another statement, joke or action provokes anger, shock and indignation against the hapless offender.

A dentist hunts a lion in Africa. Outrage! A woman tweets a joke before boarding a plane bound for Africa. Outrage!! A white cisgendered male op-ed writer mentions Africa in three different outrage examples. OUTRAGE!!!

It’s exhausting just to read about the outrage, so it must be debilitating to those peddling it.

Why do people get so offended?

I’ve never understood why people get offended by, well, anything. Even if someone attempts an insult, it’s up to you to choose whether to accept it as such. Just as you shouldn’t give others the power over your emotional state, you can’t be offended without your consent.

Or as some fancy-pants old white cisgendered male said, “Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.”

Epictetus wrote that in The Enchiridion, Greek for “the handbook,” which means I have appropriated Greco-Phrygian culture. And if you’re offended on behalf of that extinct ethnicity, you need to keep reading.

Let’s reinterpret this 2,000-year-old dead white male for modern audiences. When a thin-skinned audience member shouts “I’m offended!” at a stand-up comic, it only reveals the heckler’s fragile psyche and low self-worth.

Insult me? Then you must be an idiot

If you’re insulted when a co-worker holds the door for his female associate, you are projecting your hang-ups on what is most likely a simple act of politeness. If a Swedish bongo player sports blonde dreadlocks and you’re offended instead of amused, you have more baggage than a deposed Haitian dictator fleeing to Paris.

Perhaps I’m an outlier, but if someone tries to insult me, I don’t feel badly about myself — I just conclude that they’re an idiot. Some might find this attitude arrogant and they’re probably right. But if some humorless scold attacks me for being a white cisgendered male, that’s their problem, not mine. In fact, I pity them for not appreciating the single-malt, double-barreled awesome that I’m bringing.

Here’s an interaction I had on Twitter, the Algonquin Round Table of the digital age. One interlocutor noted that vaccinations might cause autism. (They don’t.) Another wondered if a government can mandate immunization. (Sure.) But shouldn’t parents have the right to say no? (Not if they put the community at risk; at least that’s how I see it.)

All fair questions and a fine debate to have. And on it went until one person replied with what he felt was the trump card: “That really offends me!”

To which I said, “So what?”

This doesn’t help you win an argument

A brusque response, but the anonymous stranger’s taking of offense is not my or anyone else’s concern; public health is. Harrumphing “that offends me!” has no bearing on any argument, pro or con. It’s a non sequitur revealing naught but a delicate constitution.

I don’t intend to argue the pros and cons of vaccination; that specific debate isn’t the point. As our culture has slid to the so-called “social justice warriors” of the left and the trolls of the “alt-right,” activists on all sides believe that their being offended carries some sort of moral authority as a victim. Does their sense of grievance make their arguments more compelling? It does no such thing.

British comedian Stephen Fry said it best:

It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that,” as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.

“I’m offended by that.”

Well, so [bleeping] what?