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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, June 28, 2004

The $.29 Revolution

It's June 28th. You haven't contributed yet to the "folkbum 3." You have horrible feelings of guilt and doubt about whether that means you're still a good person.

Never fear: Donate some fundage to Tim Carpenter, Bryan Kennedy, or Russ Feingold (no link for Russ--click on the BlogAd to your right).

Add $.29 to show them it's from me.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

A Quiz!

This time it's a Grammar Quiz. I've got an advantage, being a professional and all, so my 10/10 perfect score is, if I do say so myself, not a suprise. Try it.

An extra 50 bonus points to anyone who can identify what's wrong with their explanation for question #8 (their answer's right, just the explanation is off). Via Mustang Bobby.

And the debate continues unabated at the Iron Blog, plus time's running out for the folkbum 3 (and GMail invites).

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Monday, June 21, 2004

A time to give . . .

Well, June is almost over. You know what that means: Beer and explosives for everyone! The second quarter fund-raising reports are almost due for candidates. There's an old saying that it takes money to make money. A slightly newer saying is that money collected early in a race is like yeast--it helps to raise the dough.

So I'm asking you to give just a little, as a favor to me. You'll notice that, unlike some bloggers I could name *cough*Atrios*cough* I never ask for money for myself. I have no PayPal tip jar and no Amazon wish list. I haven't even made enough from the BlogAds to make it worthwhile for them to pay me.

So consider this the 2004 folkbum pledge drive. If you like me, and like what I write, and want to encourage me to continue, please give. But instead of giving to me, give to the candidates. And, to signify that it's coming from my site, add, oh, 29 cents (I'll turn 30 just ten days before the federal primary here--unless I start lying). So for a donation you might make of $10.00 you'd do $10.29 instead. Or $25.29. Or $2000.29. It's up to you.

The candidates I'm shilling for:
  • Tim Carpenter is running to replace retiring Democrat Jerry Kleczka in Wisconsin's fourth congressional district. Despite the fact that Tim replaced Jerry in the state legislature when Jerry got promoted, Kleczka has endorsed one of Carpenter's opponents. That just makes my job a that much harder, I guess. Tim is a Dean Democrat, willing to do anything for health care, education, and jobs, and with a legislative track record to prove it. (This opponent of his has never been elected to a single public office!) With the election of Carpenter, Wisconsin would have the highest-percentage of openly gay federal office holders (with Tammy Baldwin, that makes two of eight, or 25%!). But beyond that, Tim is the hardest-working and most personable legislator I've ever met--he remembers names, faces, and issues of the constituents he meets like no one else, and he is constantly walking his district. He's a policy wonk in a good way--he cares about crafting legislation to better people's lives. We need that in congress. Please help us get there.

  • Russ Feingold is Everyone's Favorite Senator™. But he is also a senator with a reputation for narrow wins. His potential opponents this time around are not as strong, though, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't appreciate your help!

  • Last up is Bryan Kennedy, out to unseat Jim Sensenbrenner in Wisconsin's fifth congressional district. I already did a spiel for him here.

  • I'll run this fundraiser for a week or so; I'll even try contacting the campaigns later to see if anything has turned up. That's right--I'll be checking on you!

    UPDATE: My GMail has been flaky--I have browser compatibility issues--but I think I've figured it out and got in for the first time ever today. So I have two invitations to GMail for the first two people to contribute to one or more of the "folkbum three." Leave me a comment with an active email address and, Gmail willing, I'll invite you.

    Sunday, June 20, 2004

    One more update on TABOR and taxes

    Buried on the back of today's "Crossroads" section in the paper, there's an essay from Charity Eleson and Joel Rogers about Wisconsin taxes. They are more expert that I am (the bio tag reads, "Charity Eleson is the executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Joel Rogers is the director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy"), but they make some of the same points I do about the "tax hell" thing being a manufactured crisis.

    [Obligatory Troll Repellent: I am as appalled as anyone when I look at my property tax bill every winter. The last thing I want is for homeowners and consumers to have to fork out more than we do.]

    From the article, emphasis mine:
    Present state finance discussion is tilted strongly toward spending cuts, not revenue increases. Some say our public services are too generous, so we can easily afford to cut them. Others say we must cut them, since their present cost to the private economy is hindering its growth. Still others say our government is so overgrown that we can escape this thicket just by increasing its efficiency, i.e., cutting public employment.

    But only a tiny minority is saying we should and must raise revenue--through tax increases, base broadening or charging more in fees. And most politicians fear that even raising the "R" word will doom their election chances. This isn't much of a debate at all.

    This non-debate proceeds within a framework of non-facts, tirelessly repeated by business lobbyists, politicians and the media--that is, most of the people with power to shape public opinion in the state. These non-facts include the propositions that Wisconsin government spending and employment are both vastly above national averages, that the tax burden on business is particularly excessive and that public spending in general is hurtful to the economy, forcing a painful trade off between our shared quality of life and our private incomes.

    All nonsense. In fact, Wisconsin government spending is only slightly above the national state average. Annually, we spend 2 cents more per dollar of income, and $236 more per capita. What this buys us is well above-average quality in our schools, parks, roads and other public amenities and services.

    Wisconsin government is also not big in comparison with other states. As a share of total employment, state and local government employment here ranks 29th nationally; state government alone ranks 39th.

    Nor are business taxes here exceptionally high. As a share of all taxes within the state, the Boston Federal Reserve put them at 49th among the states, 50th if you include the District of Columbia. And any good economist can tell you that public spending, per se, has no determinate relation to economic performance or private income.
    That last paragraph is key to my whole argument here: If we had more tax fairness--in other words, a greater share of the tax burden paid for by someone other than the homeowner and consumer (I'm looking at you, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce), then we could avoid structural and budget deficits while easing the overall tax burden on working families.

    So there.

    Saturday, June 19, 2004

    This is becoming a pattern

    Owen responded to my criticisms of his TABOR post. Rather than keep posting there, I'm bringing the fight here. He takes my six points one by one. He starts with this:
    Wisconsin ranks 30th in taxes and fees as a percentage of personal income.  So, if we divide total taxes and fees levied by the total personal income for Wisconsin, we will get a percentage that ranks Wisconsin 30th.  What this statistic hides is the tax and fee distribution for the state.  Wisconsin’s tax system is very progressive.  So while the poor folks in Wisconsin are paying taxes and fees at a much lower rate than the national average, the better off folks are paying a much higher percentage.  The people who are complaining about the tax burden are the better off folks.  It is only natural that the people who are actually paying the taxes are the ones who are complaining.
    This is wrong on so many levels. First of all, according to our own Department of Revenue,
    State and Local Tax Burdens Are at Historically Low Levels [. . .] State and local taxes were 11.3% of personal income in FY2003

    Tax burdens were relatively constant around 12% of income from FY85-FY91.

    From FY91-FY96, the overall tax burden gradually rose to a high of 12.7% in FY95.

    Since FY96, overall tax burden has generally declined, mainly because of declines in the property tax and individual income tax burdens.
    We may have a high tax burden (discounting fees), but it is not significantly different than it was 20 years ago, except to be less.

    Beyond that, it's laughable to suggest that Wisconsin's taxes are progressive. Yes, the income tax kind of is (except for all the exemptions for the wealthy and corporations the legislature keeps passing), but the vast majority of us pay more in property tax than income tax. Again, from the DOR: Out of that 11.3% we pay here in Wisconsin, "property tax accounted for 4.2% of income,  individual income tax 3.1% and sales tax 2.5%." The property tax is just about the most regressive tax there is! Sure, the wealthy with their big, expensive houses pay more property tax on those houses, but the wealthy also have a significantly higher income, which makes the proportion of property taxes they pay much smaller as a percent or income than the poor. Some nice retired widow on a fixed income who finds herself living in an up-and-coming neighborhood will be forced out of her home by the nouveau-riche driving up property values.

    Owen continues:
    Regardless of this statistic, it is also a fact that Wisconsin government spends much more than other states.  In fact, even if you remove the differences in taxation caused by federal spending levels and the difference in reliance on fees, 70.5% of the difference in taxation between Wisconsin and the national average is due to spending.  When a state spends so much more than other states, it is fair for citizens to ask, “why?”
    Well, the study Owen cites tells us why:
    More spending on K-12 education--$778.4 million, 32.2% of additional taxes; a larger higher education system and lower student tuition and fees--$311.4 million, 12.9% of Wisconsin’s additional taxes; and higher spending in other areas, most notably local streets and roads--$614.0 million, 25.4% of the state’s higher taxes. [. . .]

    [T]hree items explain most of Wisconsin’s higher K-12 spending.  State school districts spend 52% more on employee benefits (but not on salaries) than the national norm [ed. note--I will come back to this].  Wisconsin has smaller student-teacher ratios.  And, due to a building boom in the 1990’s, the state spends more on capital expenditures and debt.

    Similarly, two factors explain the greater higher education spending here.  First, Wisconsin’s public university and technical college system is about 22% larger than average.  Second, resident tuition for both systems is low, and, thus, taxpayer subsidies are high.

    Wisconsin’s extensive state and local road system also contributes to higher taxes.  Road and highway spending here is 40% above the national average.  Although weather is a factor, a more important factor explaining Wisconsin’s state-local road spending is the fact that Wisconsin is sixth in paved road miles per capita. [. . .]

    Specifics aside, it is worth ending where we began.  Certainly there are arithmetic answers to the question “Why Are Wisconsin Taxes High.”  Revenue mix, K-12 education, colleges and universities and highways all play a role.  But what first led Wisconsin to exhibit these priorities?  One cannot ignore that the state’s Yankee/immigrant heritage laid the groundwork for our current levels of government spending and taxing.  The state’s long-held view of government as an active participant in society influenced spending decisions throughout the last century.  And the tradition of strong local governments meant services are still provided in a decentralized manner, which requires higher state taxes to find local spending and property taxes
    Sorry to quote at length, but it bears repeating here, and maybe had Owen read to the end of the article, he'd be able to answer for himself. This state has a commitment to public education rooted in our constitution, a world-class university system, and more roads than you can shake a stick at. If you're willing to sacrifice these, Owen, then make your case. (I won't even get into prisons, because, as much as we spend--and it's plenty; we rank in the top 10--it is not significantly above the national average!)

    More from Owen:
    Frankly, I find Folkbum’s condescending “It’s not as bad as you think” comment to be the height of arrogance.  It reminds me of Bobby Knight’s comment that getting blown out in a basketball game is a lot like rape, “you may as well sit back and enjoy it.” [. . .] As someone who gets paid by taxes, Folkbum, I find your attitude that I should just “sit back and enjoy” paying my taxes to be offensive.
    I think he means that I get paid by taxes, not him (watch those dangling modifyers!), but I find his putting words in my mouth offensive. I never said we should enjoy it, and in fact proposed ways to reduce our tax burden myself. This is argumentation from the Rush Limbaugh school of debate; it is dishonest and has no place here.

    Responding to my contention that the property tax burden is borne unduly by homeowners, Owen writes,
    At least you recognize that someone pays too much in taxes.  Wisconsinites do, indeed, pay too much in property taxes.  You are wrong on how TABOR would affect them.  TABOR is not a tax limitation--it is a spending limitation.  If government wants to substitute sales taxes for property taxes, it would be permitted under TABOR.  The only thing that TABOR would do is insure that the overall spending remains the same.  Big difference.
    Let's examine what TABOR would do, shall we? From the proposed amendment language, my emphasis:
    To create section 11 of article VIII of the constitution; relating to: elector approval for certain taxing, spending, and bonding decisions by the state and local governmental units, emergency taxes, required reserves, refunds of amounts in excess of the approved amounts, and reduction of tax rates to reflect the excess of revenues over expenditures (first consideration). [. . .]

    (4) Beginning on the first day that occurs after the ratification of this paragraph, a governmental unit must have elector approval under this section in advance for any of the following:
    (a) Exceeding a spending limit under this section, but no approval may be given under this section for exceeding a spending limit on a permanent basis.
    (b) Unless it is an emergency tax meeting the requirements of sub. (6) (b), a new tax, tax rate increase, extension of an expiring tax, or a tax change causing a net tax revenue gain to the governmental unit, including one required under section 5 of this article, section 4 of article X or section 3 (3) or (4) of article XI.
    (c) Authorizing bonding other than bonding to refund or refinance outstanding bonds.
    So no, Owen, it is not just a spending limit. If we pass TABOR, the unfair property tax rate (and remember, property taxes are regressive) will be set in stone unless we pass a referendum to change it--and don't think for a second that even a tax fairness ballot issue won't be spun to death as a tax increase, so any chance of such a measure passing is mighty slim.

    I showed how one small aspect of Colorado's public life has been damaged under TABOR has fallen--the health of its children. Owen responded, "TABOR was implemented [in Colorado] in 1992.  It’s hard to say how much TABOR would affect such broad metrics in a mere 4 or 5 years." I showed how over the course of a full decade--1993-2003--Colorado fell from 9th to 25th. Even if these stats are "volatile," as Owen claims, a clear fall from the top ten to no better than average is meaningful. I'm not saying TABOR is wholly responsible--there's a whole list of factors involved--but the coincidence is striking.

    More Owen:
    For those of you who aren’t in Wisconsin, we have an automatic gas tax increase every year that the legislature put in place so that they don’t have to vote on it every year.  I agree with Folkbum that this automatic increase is deplorable, but I must remind him that it has been in place for years and neither party has made any effort to repeal it.
    I must remind Owen that had he read the link I provided, he'd see that (Democrat) Spencer Black's 2003 bill repealing the tax was recommended unanimously out of (Republican-controlled) committee but unceremoniously killed by (Republican) Assembly Speaker John Gard. A similar thing happened in the Sate Senate last year. We spend a lot on roads in Wisconsin, much of it fueled (heh) by the gas tax, as noted in the WISTAX study I quoted above. A big part of the reason for this road frenzy is that legislative leadership is in the pockets of the road builders. This is not a reason to change the Constitution; rather, it's a reason to change legislators. (And if the good people of Peshtigo want to kick Gard out of the Assembly, please, jeebus, let them!)

    Still more:
    Yes, TABOR only addresses spending.  Yes, costs are also something that should be addressed.  It doesn’t fix waterway erosion, federal financing disparity, or MMSD’s sewage dumping either.  So what?  This is a false argument.  Increasing taxes doesn’t fix costs either, does it?  TABOR is designed to address a single issue in Wisconsin: extravagant government spending.  Don’t try to make it more than it is.
    My constant gripe about TABOR (and you can go back and read the last several months of this blog if you doubt me) has been that this legislature is perfectly willing to cap taxes and spending but refuses to address costs first. If they have the means to keep costs low, then they can cap revenue and spending without fear that cost overruns will lead to dangerous cuts in other areas. Yet this legislature won't do that. Leaving aside his repeated misstatement about what TABOR really limits, Owen apparently believes I said we should raise taxes. I said no such thing. In fact, I have consistently called for cost controls so that we don't have to raise taxes. But, again, this legislature lacks the political will to do so. We can't be reasonably expected to accept TABOR's caps without those controls.

    The specific example I used was health care. If you go back up to the WISTAX study I quoted from at length, you'll note that in discussing education, it notes that we spend 52% more on health care for school employees than other states. I don't know where they got that data, but I'd believe it. Wisconsin is one of the most expensive states when it comes to health care, and the costs of health care in southeastern Wisconsin, where Owen and I live, is even worse--they were up 12% last year alone. If these costs had been increasing at or below the rates of inflation for the past two decades, we wouldn't have many of the problems we have now. If they continue increasing at that rate, and we have TABOR in place, we will either face cuts in benefits to municipal employees or cuts in other services to offset the costs. We have a chance for a win-win situation here--controlling costs would not only benefit us municipal employees, but private sector employees as well. I don't understand why some people are so averse to both saving taxpayers money and making their own lives easier.

    I said, "the underlying assumption of TABOR is that elected officials are mindless boobs who can’t be trusted to control themselves when it comes to spending.  When you support TABOR, essentially, you are supporting a subversion of the system of representative democracy that has sustained this country for more than two centuries.  If you don’t like how your elected officials spend, then feel free to vote, campaign, or run against them in the next election.  It’s that simple." Owen said,
    This is the one argument that I think is a valid argument.  I believe in our republican form of government.  That does not mean, however, that the citizens must cede all power at all times.  In Wisconsin, the elected officials have proven over the years that they can’t be trusted to control spending in any real form.  Given that they have betrayed that trust and abused the power given to them by the people of Wisconsin, I don’t see the problem with taking that power back.
    I was part of a movement around this time last year that had at its core the notion of taking our country back. Unlike conservatives and the groups they belong to who believe, as Owen apparently does, that taking our government back involves amending the constitution (FMA, anyone?), what we were up to was changing the people in leadership positions. Sure, maybe we failed on the grand scale, but the movement is still afoot and you have not heard the last from us. But we recognized that the true power of the people lies in how we vote. I'm not exactly sure where Owen lives, but he's almost certainly represented by Republicans. I would be happy to join Owen in any attempt to unseat those incumbents this fall.

    But there is a growing bi-partisan call to abandon the restraints of TABOR in favor of something more sensible. Republicans from Mary Lazich (who might be Owen's senator), who thinks TABOR is too liberal(!) to former governor Lee Dreyfus are lining up against the bill. Dreyfus, I think, has the most sensible take:
    Dreyfus said amending the Wisconsin Constitution to clamp limits on state and local property tax increases amounts to legislators shirking their own fiscal responsibilities.

    The key question to ask legislators, he said, is: "Why are you passing the buck? Why aren't you doing what you're supposed to do?"

    It's the duty of state legislators to keep a rein on state tax increases and the vast majority of them campaign for office promising to do just that, Dreyfus said.

    Despite those pledges, he said, over the years state spending has exploded with the biannual state budget now billions and billions of dollars higher than when he left office 21 years ago.

    "Maybe we don't need to change the Constitution, we need to change the legislators," said Dreyfus. "The people of Wisconsin will figure this out quickly."
    In the end, the referenda required to do just about anything under the restraints of TABOR pose their own dangers. Voters refuse to finance desperately needed new schools already (though in all honesty that's not always the case). And as I said, any change to the tax law will be spun by special interest groups like WMC to be tax increases, and that won't go over well. We need to address tax fairness, cost controls, and bad lawmakers first. If those issues are resolved, then I might consider supporting TABOR. As it is now, the proposed amendment is simply untenable.

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    Owen's at it--again!

    I have a post in me somewhere about the new panel that's supposed to hash out a plan to increas attendance in the Milwaukee Public Schools, but I'm mostly unfocused. Except for my never-ending quest to stomp TABOR (the unironically named Taxpayers' Bill of Rights) into the ground.

    So when Owen shills for it, I just gotta respond. He writes:
    I could pull statistics until the cows come home.  In category after category, Colorado’s people are doing exceptionally well.  They are becoming better educated, getting better jobs, and enjoying a higher standard of living than the rest of the nation.  They do all of this while being 40th in State Tax Burden.

    Opponents of TABOR may try to argue that Colorado’s success is not the result of TABOR, but they can’t argue that TABOR has damaged Colorado.  At the very worst, TABOR has had no effect on Colorado.  At the very best, TABOR has spurred Colorado to one of the leading states in almost all categories. 

    We need TABOR in Wisconsin.
    I left the rest of this as a comment over there:

    One, Wisconsin ranks 30th in taxes and fees as a percent of personal income. It's not as bad as you think.

    Two, over the last 30 years, the residential property tax payer has shouldered a greater share of the burden: In 1970, the residential taxpayer was paying but 50% of the overall property tax revenue. In 2002, that burden was 68.8%. TABOR will lock in this tax rate, and Wisconsin's homeowners will be forever forced to pay unfairly high tax rates.

    Three, success in Colorado's schools notwithstanding, Colorado ranks near the bottom in childhood immunizations (39, Wisconsin is 8); 31st in unisured children (Wisconsin is 3); in fact, just compare Colorado overall with Wisconsin when it comes to healthy children. Or watch Colorado's fall in terms of overall health since TABOR--including measurements of healthy children.

    Four, who's going to break it to John Gard (and his road-building contributors) that his precious automatic gas tax increases would be frozen under TABOR?

    Five, the worst thing about TABOR is that it approaches the issue ass-backwards. Rather than addressing cost, it only addresses spending. Example: Due to political impotence on the part of state and national leaders, the costs of health care have increased at three to four times the rate of inflation annually for years. TABOR limits spending increases to inflation plus population growth, meaning that it will be impossible to keep up with health care costs. And don't get me started on the unfunded federal and state mandates in education! WIthout checks on cost, limits on spending are doomed to produce unpleasantness, your otherworldly welfare fantasy aside.

    Six, the underlying assumption of TABOR is that elected officials are mindless boobs who can't be trusted to control themselves when it comes to spending. When you support TABOR, essentially, you are supporting a subversion of the system of representative democracy that has sustained this country for more than two centuries. If you don't like how your elected officials spend, then feel free to vote, campaign, or run against them in the next election. It's that simple.

    Sunday, June 13, 2004

    Warning: Light Posting Ahead

    This week is exams and the end of school. So, if I know what's good for me, I'll unhook the internet IV from my arm for a while so I can get everything done.

    I will definitely be back by, say, Thursday. But then my parents are in town next week--a week when I'm also up at the Iron Blog. So posting will stay relatively spotty.

    And there's still no news on the campiagn job front, but I'm pretty well resigned to teaching summer school. Sigh.

    Saturday, June 12, 2004

    For my students

    I know my students don't care as much about polutics as they should. Perhaps, though, they just need to have it explained to them in today's "hip" slang. So I ran my blog through the Shizzolator:
    "The most important thing is fo' us find Osama bin Laden. It is izzle number one priority 'n we will not rest until we find tha dude's ass." (G.W. Big Baby Bush, 9/13/01)
    "I don't know where bin Laden is n' shit. I has no idea 'n really don't care, know what I'm sayin'? It's not that important n' shit. It's not izzle priority, know what I'm sayin'?" (G.W. Big Baby Bush, 3/13/02)
    This should make Bush's blatant disregard for this country's safety transparently clear. More locally, there is news on TABOR:
    This is still some danger of Gard 'n Panzer getting a tax freeze bill through da legislature again this year, but at least some muthas are starting take da hint 'bout TABOR n' shit.
    And don't forget the big news story and analysis from this week:
    But since Reagan, since da Gipper there proved that yo' ass can be extraordinarily electable 'n da public can even be forgiving if yo' ass are driven by pure ideology--as long as yo' ass put an optimistic face on that shiznit, anyway--da presidency has tended toward da ideological extreme n' shit.
    i could do this all night . . .

    Bottom of the Barrel

    Time for another installment in our continuing occasional series, Bottom of the Barrel, wherein I take the lowest of the low in the Ecosystem's Insignificant Microbes, provide a link, and say a few nice things about it.

    Today's lucky contestant is Justin from thoughtful musings ... & random statements. Immediately I was pleased to find that this blog has not a single word about Ronald Reagan. I mean, I know I myself am guilty of having blogged about the Gippered One's death and legacy, but so has just about every other damn blog I have been to in the past week. But not Justin. His thoughts are an a, um, higher level, random though he claims they are. To whit:
    I am beginning A History of Biblical Interpretation: The Ancient Period, tomorrow. It is for a book review article in the Southwestern Journal of Theology. I get a free book for doing the book review, and since I lust after books, I decided that I would do a book review for a free book. So the next couple of posts will deal with and discuss much of hermeneutics of the Bible - a favorite topic of mine.
    See the post below this one if you want to know a favorite topic of mine. Yeesh.

    On the other hand, Justin seems to be about a whole lot more than just biblical hermeneutics--some very down to earth stuff. From a more recent post:
    On June 17 I fly out to Burbank to go surfin' with a CA friend. Should be lotsa fun, there will also be some dim sum eatin' going on, and maybe some beer sampling - who knows??
    And wouldn't this make Philosophy 101 a lot more interesting than lectures by the old guy in tweed?
    I have decided that next time I teach an intro to philosophy class that it will revolve around three movies - but in actuality I keep adding movies to it - so far these movies include The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Vanilla Sky. For The Matrix, I will discuss Plato's Republic especially the allegory of the cave, yet I can also throw in some Descartes, which would then lead into Vanilla Sky. WOW!! Watched this movie for a second time tonight, must say, reminded me of Descartes, so would nicely tie in with Descartes Meditations. Moreover, Vanilla Sky also has element of existentialism in it. Blade Runner would go along nicely with John Searle's Chinese Room. Searle's chinese room basically deals with the question of consciousness and AI. Both relevant questions for philosophy. Hopefully by incorporating movies into an intro course for philosophy, student interest will be much higher.
    I have no idea what he's talking about, but, you know, I could be convinced to pay attention.

    A Quiz!

    speak and spell
    You're a Speak & Spell!! You nerd, you. Just because you were disguised as a toy doesn't mean you weren't educational, you sneaky bastard.
    What childhood toy from the 80s are you?
    Via P6.

    UPDATE: Added link (which, somehow, was not in the copy-paste results. Hm. Also, I want to point out the irony that I never had a speak and spell. Not one.

    Friday, June 11, 2004

    TABOR dead (at least for now)

    Woo-hoo!

    I would like to personally take credit for its demise this year, what with my scathing attacks on the proposed constitutional amendment over the last few months. (See here and here, for example.)

    This is still some danger of Gard and Panzer getting a tax freeze bill through the legislature again this year, but at least some people are starting to take the hint about TABOR.

    Thursday, June 10, 2004

    Don't let them lie

    The Week of Reagan is about to end tomorrow with a nice ceremony at the National Cathedral. And I'm already beginning to see evidence in the very small slice of the conservative blogoverse that I read that the Paul Wellstone memorial lies are coming out again.

    I know that most of the liberal bloggers and blogreaders out there probably already know all about both what really happened at Wellstone's memorial service back in October 2002, and the very different reality conservative commentators and pundits and everyone else who never watched a second of tape said happened. A long, detailed account can be found in Al Franken's Lying Liars etc.. But I can offer a quick summary.

    20,000 people packed into the Williams Arena in St. Paul to honor the memory of their beloved Senator who had died just four days before in plane crash. Also killed were Wellstone's wife Sheila, their daughter Marcia, aides Tom Lapic and Mary McEvoy, driver Will McLaughlin, and two pilots.

    At the memorial, of course, were Democratic heavyweights: Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Walter Mondale (who would be replacing Wellstone on the ballot just a week later), and many members of the Senate. Republicans were there, too: Norm Coleman, Wellstone's opponent; Trent Lott who, at the time, was majority leader; former Minnesota Senators Rod Grams and Rudy Boschwitz; not-Republican but certainly not-Democrat Jesse Ventura. A whole host of others, too.

    There were eight speakers in all, besides George Latimer the former mayor of St. Paul who acted as MC. Iowa's Tom Harkin was the only elected official to speak; the rest were friends and family of the victims. One of them, whom Wellstone described as "there is no one person outside of my family that I admire and love so much" Rick Kahn, ended his eulogy with an impassioned plea to carry on the legacy of Paul Wellstone, and to "win the election for Paul." That was the only political moment. A couple of minutes, tops, out of four hours of remembrance where things got a little partisan.

    But that didn't stop those with an agenda from lying. Immediately after the memorail, Coleman's campaign manager Vin Weber was in front of cameras to denounce the whole thing as "a political event [. . .] a complete, total, absolute sham." And of course Limbaugh was on the air the next day blubbering about it. And the TV pundits, too. Everyone seemed to take that one small slice at the end of Kahn's speech and extrapolate to believe that moment was representative of the whole event. And boy were they indignant.

    Their claims ranged from Trent Lott getting booed by the whole audience (there was a smattering of boos, but he smiled and waved) to the whole event's being scripted, including telling the audience when to applaud and jeer (evidenced by the words on the Jumbotron--you know, the closed captioning that was there for the deaf). They claimed Republicans who wanted to speak were shouted down by the partisan crowd--but the only people on the schedule were the ones delivering the eulogies; there was no open mic. And more.

    What we must do over the next few days is not let them use Wellstone's memorial as a fictional counterpoint to the staid memorials for Reagan. Here are some actual words from an actual conservative earlier today:
    I suspect the reason that some Democrats are getting hot and bothered about this (and connected matters like the Drudge-fueled rumor that Our Bill is in a narcisistic snit over not being asked to speak at the funeral), is that many of them are still bitter about being slapped down over the Wellstone Memorial debacle, and that they hoped that having Clinton or Carter speak at the funeral would be too much for some Republicans to bear, creating a spectacle that they could point to and whine about unfair press coverage when it didn't result in the catastrophic effects the Wellstone Memorial had on the Democrats. It ain't happening--deal with it.
    You and I both know that any ceremony in the National Cathedral will be more subdued than a 20,000 person event in an arena. You and I both also know that they will try as hard as they can to rub it in, and say how apeshit crazy Democrats are, and how we have to turn everything into a partisan moment.

    We must not let them lie. I'm sure Al Franken, an old friend of Wellstone's who was at that memorial, will be on top of major media that try to pull this lie. But we have to get all the pernicious little liars around the blogs.

    Do not let them lie. Bookmark this page. It's the full video of the Wellstone memorial. Anytime anyone brings up that event in a comparison to Reagan's memorial service, give them that link and tell them to find where there was partisanship. Find where there was anyone going apeshit. Find any point where it was not a moving and loving tribute the one of the best damned Senators this country has ever seen. Do not let them get away with it.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2004

    I'm sorry

    There's been a dearth, lately, of those multi-thousand word essays of mine you have all come to know and love. Well, at least since Monday.

    Instead, here's a note for all of you who come by here and just get so mad at what I have to say but don't bother to leave me any comments: The Chairman is looking for challengers (and judges) over at the Iron Blog (which also happens to be this week's sponsor of your humble folkbum's blog).

    Tuesday, June 08, 2004

    The Purfuit of Happineff

    I'm not really blogging today--too hot to have the computer on my lap. And, yes, I do have a laptop. Yeesh.

    But I recommend you follow the action over at the Iron Blog, with IB Libertarian Vinod up against Republican Regular Dean Esmay. Should be interesting, as the Opening Statements show broad philosophical, political, and rhetorical differences. And, once again, I'm glad I'm just an Iron Blogger, and not a judge.

    Monday, June 07, 2004

    All Reagan, all the time

    At least for a little while.

    I will not belabor the clichéed Gen-X Reagan-was-the-first-president-I-remember stuff. (Stacie did that well enough here.) I have something a little different.

    When things go wrong, no matter how big or small, I often say, "You know who I blame?" The answer, of course, is "Reagan, just on principle."

    Now, I know not everything is his fault. In fact, there were some things that he did well. But if you take a look at the mess we're in now--the mess we've been in for the better part of two decades--a lot of the blame lies at Reagan's feet.

    I refuse to launch into any kind of anti-Reagan screed; I don't think he deserves vitriol as much as some of my blogeagues seem to. I will only casually reference Atrios and Kos in case anyone here may be laboring under the (mis)understanding that Reagan was the most popular president ever.

    Instead, let me just calmly explain what I mean. Reagan, I believe, was the first president--at least in modern times--to put ideology over anything else. Political gain and partisanship won over helping people or doing right by the country every time. Nixon, bad as he was, had a genuine concern for the well-being of the country: opening China, proposing universal heath care, the EPA, for example. Carter, of course, was a saint. Johnson and Kennedy, while partisan at times and unwilling to get us out of Southeast Asia, had heartfelt compassion for the people they were elected to lead. Even George H. W. Bush, father of the current guy, tried to subvert the political demands of his party ("No new taxes!") with the real concern I think he felt for the American people--think of the ADA, for example.

    But since Reagan, since the Gipper there proved that you can be extraordinarily electable and the public can even be forgiving if you are driven by pure ideology--as long as you put an optimistic face on it, anyway--the presidency has tended toward the ideological extreme.

    Clinton began by pushing the liberal agenda that got him elected (health care, gays in the military, balancing that darn budget) but left trumpeting conservative ideology ("The era of big government. Is. Over!"). I still think that Clinton had his moments of genuine leadership and times when common sense trumped ideology and politics in his administration. You can really see the influence of the Reagan years, though, on Republicans' reactions to Clinton throughout his term. From the moment Clinton secured the nomination in 1992, the partisan attacks began. They continue through this day, with either blatant attacks on Clinton himself or his wife or Vice President Gore. (Gore raised his voice for a few moments in a speech the other day; ergo, he's whackadoo.)

    And do I even have to begin to itemize the ways in which partisan ideology has overridden the Whopper™ and his administration in the last few years? Bush's stem-cell research stance, for example, has all the hallmarks of ideological influence rather than good science. (It's also ironic given Nancy Reagan's crusade to expand research programs.) The whole War on Terra™ is an ideological exercise--Iraq is only a terrorist threat if you belive Iraq is a terrorist threat. And it's better to pour billions into overseas wars than into inspecting container ships in our ports and funding first-responders at home.

    This is all straight out of the Reagan playbook: Gay men have AIDS? Well, okay, let them die--don't want to rile up the Moral Majority. Nicaraguan Contras fighting the forces of communism? Let's see if we can give them weapons somehow despite international law and the clear will of Congress. That there union on strike? Fire 'em. Inflation too high? Cut taxes on the wealthy. Deficit too big? Cut taxes on the wealthy. Welfare queens driving Cadillacs? Cut taxes on the wealthy. This suit make me look fat? Cut taxes on the wealthy.

    It is hard, perhaps because of distance, perhaps because the pickin's are slim, to think of a single Reagan-era program that helped people who needed help.

    What Reagan had that made him popular, and what Clinton also came eqipped with, was an unbridled sense of optimism. Reagan always had a smile on his face; he and Democrats in Congress could fight like hell over policy, and the Dems would walk away still liking and respecting the man. There was a reason why so many people considered themselves "Reagan Democrats"--Ronnie had this thing where people, even if they didn't notice the ideological bent or the indictments pouring in like flood water, just plain liked him. Clinton, after eight years of manufactured scandal, compromised liberal agendas, and randyness, left office with even higher Gallup numbers than Reagan, because he was a charmer, always smiling, always liked.

    Bush, though, while full of the partisanship that grew directly out of the Reagan years, lacks the optimism Reagan and Clinton had. He can't even successfully mask his partisanship with an air of "Compassionate Conservatism" anymore because anyone who's paying attention can see he absolutely lacks compassion or empathy. There are Republicans wildly and (in my opinion) irrationally behind Bush's War on Terra™ and tax cuts for the wealthy--but I think they have to concede that this administration is not giving us any hope or smiles to hang on to. I mean, even this morning, Donald Rumsfeld conceded about the War on Terra™, "It's quite clear to me that we do not have a coherent approach to this." They don't know what they're doing, but, darn it, they know why they're doing it!

    So the best idea I've heard for dealing with the "Mourning in Amerca" (sadly, yes, that was my local paper's headline yesterday) stuff is to remind everyone, Republican, Democrat, and Independent alike, that Bush is no Reagan. (I stole it from space at dKos.) Yes, Reagan was, on balance, bad for the country, but think about how best to frame this election season in light of the new Reagan hagiopgraphy.

    In other words, Bush is trying to out-Reagan Reagan, and we should be reminding those who like Bush that he's failing miserably.

    Sunday, June 06, 2004

    You might be a redneck if . . .

    . . . you go out collecting nomination signatures for your guy and neglect to put sunscreen on some important parts. Ouch.

    Friday, June 04, 2004

    folkbum busy

    Stacie smart.
    Spectre funny.
    Shari good.
    NTodd complicated.
    Dave lost.
    Kim verbless.

    Thursday, June 03, 2004

    The Shell Game

    True story: When I was young and stupid (I may still be stupid--watch this space for updates), I actually lost $20 to some guy on the El in Chicago running the shell game. Really. I had just finished a college class called "The Art of Magic" and I thought I was invincible in those sorts of things. But, as it turns out, I was not.

    The moral of that story? Don't play the shell game. Ever. You can't win.

    News has been dripping out slowly from Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle's Task Force on Educational Excellence about what their recommendations will be, set to be officially released at the end of this month. To get everybody up to speed, here's what the task force was charged with:
    1. Study and make recommendations regarding the cost of providing a great education to every child in Wisconsin and determine the level at which Wisconsin citizens are prepared to fund that education; and
    2. Review how the state funds education through a combination of state and local taxes, and make recommendations regarding what proportion of these two taxes is fair and reasonable to fund public education. In making recommendations, consider the constitutional requirement for equal opportunity, local control in decision making, and the effect of financing systems on property and other tax rates; and
    3. Study and make recommendations on how to improve the state’s ability to attract, recruit, train, and retain high quality teachers so that every child and every classroom has a highly qualified teacher, including ways to increase compensation to attract our best young students to the profession, keep our experienced teachers in the profession, and align our best teachers with the toughest challenges; and
    4. Consider and recommend ways to adequately fund special education, including ways to share special education costs more evenly across the state, while assuring that public education is available to all; and
    5. Review existing barriers to academic achievement in Wisconsin and make recommendations to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to a great education, regardless of location, disability, language barriers, and economic situation; and
    6. Study Wisconsin’s current investments in early childhood education and recommend ways to make other early investments in education to increase student achievement and accomplish other positive long-term results.
    That's a very broad mission, but I think that, in particular, number two is the one everybody is watching. I think that's very short-sighted to focus so much on that.

    I've written quite a bit lately about Wisconsin's overall property tax situation, mostly in regards to TABOR and the potential resurrection of the property tax freeze. One of the major results of such intense focus on the property tax issue over the years in this state is that everything ends up being about property taxes. It doesn't matter of we're talking schools or health care or casino gaming--at some point, the politicians in this state have to relate it to property taxes.

    Now, I admit, the property tax in Wisconsin is high. When Sarah and I were buying our house last year, we were showing off the info about it, and our family from out of state took a look at the property tax total and expressed disbelief. But you have to remember that Wisconsin does not collect as much in usage fees as other states. When you look at the combined total of all taxes and fees, Wisconsin doesn't even make the top half. Here's a .pdf (couldn't find an html source, sorry) that says, in part (emphasis mine),
    Wisconsin ranked 18th in total state and local spending in 2000, according to an analysis of data released in mid-December by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Center on Wisconsin Strategy and Wisconsin Budget Project analyzed the new Census Bureau data and compared Wisconsin's spending and taxes with those in other states. They looked at per capita measures of state and local financing, as well as tax and spending levels relative to income.

    "What may surprise some people is that despite Wisconsin's relatively high tax ranking we are much closer to average in spending," stated Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget project, which is part of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. "The reason for that apparent paradox is that Wisconsin relies less than most states on non-tax revenue, such as fees, and we also receive less federal funding," Peacock noted.

    The analysis of the Census Bureau data shows the following about state and local spending and taxes in Wisconsin:
    • Wisconsin ranked 8th highest in per capita state and local taxes, and 4th highest in taxes as a percentage of personal income.
    • In the category of total state and local taxes and other non-federal income, measured as a percentage of income, Wisconsin ranked 13th.
    Wisconsin was 30th in state and local fees, as a percentage of income and 35th in federal revenue.
    Those first couple of bullet points have got to look really bad, but when you factor in user fees, we do okay. And even the property tax is not so awful: The Wisconsin Taxpayer's Alliance noted that we are paying less right now as a percentage of personal income than at any time since 1981.

    But the governor's task force ended up focusing too much on the property tax, to bring us back to the supposed topic of this essay. And, of course, once word got out about the likely solution, the local daily sensationalized it in the headline:
    Sales tax boost urged to fund schools
    Task force plan would cut property taxes 20%


    Yes--the task force is recommending substituting the second most regressive tax (the sales tax) for the most regressive (the property tax). But the thing is a little more complicated than that, and it makes it not quite so bad as I just made it sound. I was able to catch a little bit of discussion on Wisconsin Public Radio over the last few weeks, both with task force Chairman Michael Spector and Mark Bugher, whose plan the tax-shift was. As it turns out, according to their descriptions of the proposal, the property tax relief will roughly follow the state's equalization formula. That means property-poor districts, which get more state aid in equalization dollars, will get more property tax relief, and those property-rich districts won't. This to me seems the inverse of what it could have been (pay more, get more back), but in the end I think it's fairer. Milwaukee property taxpayers, for example, will be taxed to the limit next year, while some wealthier suburban districts will not be close to the revenue caps. I also must give the task force credit for recommending, though not with specifics, that many services and goods that are currently not taxed be taxed (excluding food, medical care, and other necessities).

    In other words, this isn't the worst thing in the world. But the focus is way off. Everyone's fixated on the tax angle--which, from what I've heard from people sitting in on the task force's meetings, consumed the bulk of the task force's work--and that leaves some of those other charges unfulfilled.

    For example, number four, above, is inadequately dealt with from what I've seen so far. The only proposal on the table is to increase aid to districts for "high-cost" special education students. Special ed kids who now may cost 150% or even 200% of the average may not qualify under a final definition of "high cost." Part of why Milwaukee is in such dire straits is that we educate more special education students than any other district in the state. (We also have more students in poverty, without health care, and learning English as a second language, but that's beside this point.) When we are funneling more resources to those students, the resources become unavailable for the regular classroom.

    Number three, attracting and retaining teachers, is addressed with the idea of repealing the QEO. The QEO was enacted as part of a suite of reforms more than a decade ago in an effort to--guess what?--take pressure off of property tax payers. The idea is that a school district can, unilaterally, impose a 3.8% increase in salary and benefits without contract bargaining. This is dangerous, as it precludes bargaining on other contract issues. It's also dangerous as it means, in some cases, teachers have been forced into salary reductions or even give-backs to maintain their benefits. This is due to the political impotency we seem to be suffering at all levels of government when it comes to health care--those costs are increasing at well above the rate of inflation, and it becomes very hard for any employer, public or private, to keep up.

    But the task force has not, as far as I can tell from my reading and listening, made any move on health care issues. Granted, this was not an explicit charge, but there cannot be real improvement in the school funding situation without addressing it.

    But mostly, I think it is number five on that list above that is most critical. Surprisingly, the newspaper agrees with me. This is from the lead editorial this morning:
    How much does an adequate education cost, and does the new financing mechanism meet that cost? It appears, notably, that the committee would retain the equalization formula the state uses for doling out school aid--a formula that several have-not districts say shortchanges them.
    With such a narrow focus on mere tax issues, the bigger (some might say philosophical) issues have been sidelined. There's been no attempt from the task force, it sounds like, to do anything to address the equalization formula, which does not adequately do the job.

    I'll give you a very personal example: The Milwaukee Public Schools receives more state aid per student than any other district in Southeastern Wisconsin (mostly because we collect the least in property taxes per student). Yet, even after that equalization aid, we are able to spend $700 less per student compared to those same districts, on average. Without even getting into how much that litany of sorrows I listed above cuts into our per-pupil spending, think about this: If MPS had that $700 per student, we would not be in the the situation we're in now: We're looking at laying off another 300 teachers this year and jacking the tax levy to the maximum to keep the rest. There will be other deep, painful cuts, too, I'm sure. Why? Well, we're at about a $24 million budget shortfall this year. (The past few years we have regularly been between $20 and $40 million short). But if we had that $700 per student, there would not be a shortfall--there would be nearly a $50 million surplus.

    That's right--it's not waste, or greedy teachers, or fraud, or abuse, or whathaveyou that is putting MPS into the position of having to lay off hundreds of teachers a year for the past few years--it's that our students are, apparently, not worth the same amount as the students in the suburbs.

    I don't want to suggest that suburbs should give up their money--far from it. It's theirs and they should keep it. But what kind of signal does it send to the rest of the nation that Wisconsin feels its African American students (and MPS educates more than 2/3 of Wisconsin's black children) are not worth what their white counterparts are? Is this perhaps one reason why Wisconsin has had the lowest graduation rate in the nation for African Americans three years running?

    I don't want to get into the old argument about whether throwing money at a problem, particularly education, solves the problem. That's something ideological and reasonable people may well be able to disagree about it. But I have to believe that we can all agree that the more than 1000 teachers we've lost in Milwaukee in the past five years, the art and music and PhyEd programs we've had to cut, the school nurses we have been unable to keep--that's got to hurt. I don't care where you sit on the ideological spectrum, you can't honestly deny that these cuts are painful and do nothing to help educate our kids.

    It is here where the governor's task force could have been bold. They could have figured out how to staunch the bleeding in Milwaukee and other poor districts. They could have shamed the legislature into finally doing something about health care. They could have dealt more adequately with the challenges of educating all special needs students, not just the really expensive ones.

    Instead, they gave us a shell game with taxes. And you can't win at the shell game.

    Wednesday, June 02, 2004

    The Morning Mail

    In today's letters to the editor section:

    God Hates Al Gore
    Once again, former Vice President Al Gore has shown us that he never deserved to be president, in spite of garnering more popular votes in the 2000 election. Who can argue that it must have been the hand of divine providence that spared us from his potentially disastrous and immature attempt at leadership? [. . .] Besides being a knife in the back, Gore's endorsement of fellow screamer Howard Dean, rather than former running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman, forever put to rest any pretense Gore may have claimed to centrist positions.

    Robert E. Meyer
    Kaukauna


    Oh, yes. Endorsing the most truly centrist candidate in the primary was so wrong. God forbid we should want a man who balances budgets! (Which I guess is what this guy's saying, actually.)

    Democrats Hate America. The Media Do To.
    Those who truly hate America are surely encouraged both by the cry for Bush's scalp because he "lied" about Iraq and the demand for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. [. . .] In this country, everyone is free to express an opinion no matter how negative it is, but do we have to listen? Do the media have to provide an outlet for every strident voice just because they might agree with the speaker's politics?

    Thomas C. Rooney
    Waukesha


    I don't even know where to start with this one. This is what we're fighting. It's demoralizing just to read it.

    Oh, yeah, I will hope to have My Expert Opinon up on Gov. Doyle's School Finance Task Force's recommendations by tomorrow. There's a Meetup tonight and the plan missed the mark by a wide margin, so there's a lot for me to say.

    Mmmmmm. Breakfast.

    With yet another BlogAd there to your right, it seems as though I must be about ready to quit my job to do this full time because it pays so well . . . But, no. I will, however, take a moment to talk up this ad and why it's here, as I so often do.

    Jim Moran is the Representative in Virginia's 8th Congressional District. He was an early supporter of Howard Dean's presidential bid, and early opponent of the Iraq War fiasco, and generally and all-around good guy. Howard Dean is returning the favor by personally endorsing Moran and helping him in his hotly contested primary. Note that I said Dean was personally endorsing Moran. Moran is not on either of the "Dean Dozen" list produced by Democracy for America.

    And why is this a "hotly contested" primary? Apparently, Jim Moran, like Howard Dean, has a tendency to speak his mind before he considers what might be politically expedient to say. This has led him to hot water, and no small amount of controversy. But he's still a man I feel I could vote for, if I lived in the district. But perhaps I should let someone who does live in the district make the case. This is from my imaginary blog friend Maura in VA, another long-time Deanista and Moran constituent:
    I should preface this first by saying that I am volunteering for Moran's campaign.  I write for his blog and generally pitch in however I can.  So obviously I am a strong supporter.

    Part of the reason that I am volunteering for him is because he endorsed Dean.  I wrote to him and called his office countless times in the summer and fall to ask him to come on board with Dean, and when he did, I told him I'd help him however I could.  But I would never volunteer for him, regardless of who he endorsed, if I did not think he was a good Congressman and essentially a good person.

    When I first moved to Northern Virginia 10 years ago, I was in Jim's district (VA-8).  He was a great rep--out in the community all the time, very accessible, very responsive.  I was working as a teacher at the time and was so glad to have a Congressman who was such staunch supporter of public education.  I wrote and called his office often about policy issues and always heard back promptly.

    Then I moved a few miles away into Tom Davis territory, VA-11.  For a Republican, he's not too bad--he can be cooperative with Democrats in the DC area on some regional issues, and is not as radical as many.  But his constituent service was awful.  Maybe it's because I was usually contacting him to ask him to vote a different way than he planned to vote or something, but I don't recall ever getting a letter, a phone call, or an email in response to inquiries and concerns.

    Then in the last redistricting, Davis dumped my heavily Democratic precinct into Jim's territory and I was gerrymandered back into VA-8.  And the difference was like night and day.  Even when I wrote to Jim's office to protest his positions on things or disagree, I'd always get a thoughtful response.  My next door neighbor needed help with an amnesty issue for a family member and said Jim's office was great.  My colleagues who have lobbied him on education issues say he is accessible, thoughtful, and honest.

    He's earned some very meaningful endorsements lately, including the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club, the National Education Association Fund for Children and Families, and the Virginia AFL-CIO.  He's a great champion of worker's rights, human rights, and public education.  (If you saw the BlogAd that raised this diarists ire so much, I wrote the copy below it.)

    Jim wasn't just an endorser in name only in the Dean campaign.  He went to Dean Meeetups, traveled to speak in support of Dean to Democratic groups all over Northern Virginia, attended fundraisers, came to Falls Church HQ to help out, and stuck with us even when our spirits were low in VA.  

    He was a passionate opponent of the Iraq War.

    [T]he very controversial quote that has gotten Jim into so much hot water has been totally taken out of context and distorted.  He never said that Jews were to blame for what's going on in the Middle East.  I agree with what a commenter said below - that the term "Jewish lobby" was very poorly worded, and Jim has apologized for saying something that implied that he thought Jewish leaders were to blame for the war.  The fact is, Jim has said in MANY contexts, and I have heard him myself, that religious leaders of many faiths have let us down by not exhibiting more leadership in opposing the war. Do any of us here disagree with that?  If my Catholic Church was less obsessed with my reproductive functions and more focused on peace and social justice issues, we might not be where we are today, either.  Does it make me anti-Catholic to say that?  I hope not.  

    He's been my Congressman for nearly 10 years, but it's only in the past few weeks that I have really gotten to know Jim Moran as a person.  And I really like him.  He has said that he's "like a bull in a china shop", and there are times I have thought that was an apt description--he can be awkward and gangly and generally not as cool and calculating as most politicians.  He wears his heart on his sleeve. That's good and bad.  Good, because he's passionate, he puts his heart into his work, and he's GOT a heart.  Bad, sometimes, because he'll say what he thinks without  measuring it first if he's fired up.  His opponent's campaign has been relentlessly negative lately, and Jim's not as thick-skinned as I'd expect a politican of his years of experience to be.  But when I hear him talk about kids in our community, or the deficit, or the war, or women's rights, or affordable housing, or working on the Dean campaign--I know he's the real thing.  Not real calculating.  Not real scripted.  Not real suave sometimes.  Just real.

    I want him to keep working for us in VA-8.  If his opponent wins, it's a triumph of the worst kind of negative campaigning.  Initially, I had been impressed by his opponent's grassroots campaigning--he's been out on the street and has had volunteers on the ground for a while--but his camp has descended into relentlessly negative distortions and attacks of Rovian proportions.  

    This whole Dean endorsement issue has been emblematic.  At first, when the word got out that Dean was endorsing Moran, supporters of Moran's opponent claimed that the Moran campaign was making it up.  Then they claimed that Dean was being paid for the appearance.  Then they claimed that Dean was just hosting a fundraiser, but wasn't actually endorsing.  Just this week, Moran's opponent said to my face that it was a lie that Dean was endorsing Moran, and I said that was funny because I had just gotten an email from the Governor himself about it, and talked to Tom Hughes at DFA earlier that day to get permission to pass on official confirmation from DFA that Dean was in no way being compensated and was indeed endorsing Moran.  Yet on the campaign Web site for Rosenberg, in a post that went up today, it still says that the purported Dean endorsement is a lie.  It's ridiculous.  And it's that kind of tactic that is so far beneath what I expect of fellow Democrats that it makes me want to work even harder for Moran.
    I know, very few of my Wisconsin readers will make the trip to Virginia for breakfast, even if it is with Gov. Dean. But Moran's a guy worth supporting, both as a Dean Democrat and as someone unfairly hounded by primary opponents--something we Dean fans recognize all too easily.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004

    Fisking Owen Fisking Me Fisking Wendy

    This was too long to do in the comments over there. But you can get yourself up to speed by starting here (note the comments), then here, then here (again noting the comments), and finally here. That last one is what this is in response to.

    The italics are Owen. Yes, he actually said these things.

    Who gives a rat’s ass which acronym actually does the negotiating? [. . .] It doesn’t matter who’s at the table when everyone knows who’s in the next room.
    When Wendy (or anyone else) claims that WEAC negotiates with local districts, it is simply an untruth. Worse, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding about How Things Work. Your scary picture of the gorilla in the next room is fun and all, but not representative of Real Life.

    WEAC is no different from, say, a state or national Teamsters organizaton. However, I doubt you and I will agree much on the issue of unions in general.

    The QEO exists largely because of Shared Revenue.  With the State funding two-thirds of schools, local districts were all too happy to give out lavish compensation packages because they only had to pony up a fraction of the cost.  The State taxpayers have a vested interest in controlling costs and the QEO is meant to address that. [. . .] If you are willing to dump Shared Revenue, then I am willing to dump revenue caps AND the QEO.  Deal?
    The QEO, shared revenue, and revenue caps are, indeed, all related. In fact, people on my side of the issue have been hoping to revisit those issues for a decade. Believe me, we would be more than happy to take you up on your trade of QEO and revenue caps for the shared revenue.

    And now we may actually have a shot: In order to balance the last biennial budget, state aid to schools is down to about 64%, not the full 2/3, and next time around it will likely be even less. (This is why MPS is asking for a hike in its tax levy--to begin to make up for the millions lost in state aid by pushing right up to the revenue cap.)

    You are absolutely correct that healthcare costs are increasing in Wisconsin.  They are increasing for everyone. [. . .] You won’t find a lot of sympathy regarding your healthcare costs from those of us in the private sector. Furthermore, I must point out that WEA Trust Insurance provides health insurance coverage for 80% of school districts in Wisconsin.  WEA Trust Insurance is run by WEAC--your union--and its rates are higher than the market norm.
    Health care is a whole can of worms that I get the feeling you and I could debate for weeks on end. WEA Trust may have higher rates (and a brief Googling didn't give me what I was looking for, so if you have a cite, I'd gladly take it). But the WEA trust is also an award winning provider and WEA Trust and WEAC are among the leaders in the state in trying to actually reform the system to bring down costs for everyone. Beyond that, the reason that 80% of the districts in the state use the WEA Trust for insurance is that by themselves, they are too small to negotiate rates even as low as the WEA Trust provides--by pooling, they get a rate that, while maybe higher than average (taking your word for it), is lower than if they all tried to insure themselves individually.

    While you're right that I tend not to find sympathy in the private sector on the health care issue, what's surprising is that I find so few allies. As I said in that post you linked to, what's obscene, to me, is that so many others do not have the level of coverage that I do. You're right to say that am a "liberal activist," and among the other fights I am active in, I am working to make health care coverage of the quality I have available to everyone. How evil does that make me?

    Health care is the new weather, I always say--everyone complains about it, but nobody is willing to do anything. If every second people spent complaining about how good teachers' insurance is were spent fighting for reform, maybe people wouldn't have a reason to complain anymore.

    If the cost [of private voucher schools] is the same to the state, or less, then why should it matter where my child receives his or her education?  Isn’t the point to educate the children?  It is to me, but apparently not to you.  You aren’t satisfied unless that child is being educated by a card-carrying dues-paying member of WEAC.  I’m more concerned about my child’s education--not the building in which it takes place.
    The school choice debate, like health care, is one that we could have for weeks on end, and I don't want to get too deeply into it here. But one reason why the cost of private schooling to the state is "the same, or less" is that the state places burdens on the public schools that it does not and will not place on private schools. If and when the state does require private schools to accept special education students and provide full services under IDEA legislation and test students and hold schools accountable under the ESEA legislation (just to name two), then we can compare costs and see how comparable they are.

    I'm concerned about quality--the students educated in voucher schools are, like public school students, the future of this city. If there is no guarantee that those schools will be held to the same standards as public schools, then I have a right to demand that my tax dollars not support that (potentially) substandard education.

    Now, I know that there are dozens of quality private schools in Milwaukee with long-standing traditions of success. But what we have created here is a cottage industry, where anyone who takes a notion can hang out a shingle and bilk taxpayers out of money for what amounts to a daycare.

    I've written about that here.

    As for four-year-old kindergarten, let me re-phrase your paragraph:
    The American Dental Association says that flossing is necessary and needed for people to prevent cavities.  True, right now they are only looking for more floss to be available.  But once you have taken the position that something is critical to the dental hygiene, isn’t the next logical step to demand that it be made mandatory?  I am not fooled by incrementalism.

    See how absurd that sounds? And in any case, what Wendy said ("They [WEAC] want to force parents into sending their kids to school at 4 years old") is a bald-faced lie by even your own admission.

    Although you don’t actually cite any studies to back you up, I tend to think that you are correct.  This is mirrored in the private sector.  Experience counts, but it always has to be weighed against expense.  I’m sure that if we gave teachers $600k/year and a 20-hour work week that turnover would plummet.  So, really, it’s just a matter of what turnover rate is acceptable. [. . .] I’d be willing to accept even higher turnover rates to keep my property taxes down.
    I'm sorry I didn't take the time to fully source a comment I left on someone else's blog. </snark> For a start, this Education Week article provides a nice summary both on the experience issue and on the training issue I'll discuss in a minute:
    Some studies that have correlated teacher test scores on basic skills tests and college entrance exams with the scores of their students on standardized tests have found that high-scoring teachers are more likely to elicit significant gains in student achievement than their lower-scoring counterparts (Ferguson, 1998; Ferguson & Ladd, 1996; Strauss & Sawyer, 1986).

    Deep content-area knowledge is also an attribute of teachers that seems to have a positive impact on student achievement (Monk, 1994). This appears especially true for science and mathematics teachers. A review of research by the Education Commission of the States found moderate support for the importance that teachers be well-versed in their subjects. The review points out, however, that the research is not detailed enough to clarify how much subject matter is critical for teaching specific course levels and grades. The same review found less support for the importance of pedagogical coursework or field experiences for teachers, although courses focused on how best to teach a particular subject may contribute to effective teaching (Allen, 2003).

    Teaching experience also appears to have an influence on student achievement. Teachers with less teaching experience typically produce smaller learning gains in their students compared with more seasoned teachers (Fetler, 1999; Murnane & Phillips, 1981). However, most of those studies have also discovered that the benefits of experience level off after the first five or so years of teaching.
    So the question becomes, as you say, what turnover rate is acceptable? The fact is, 40% of teachers leave before those key first five years are up, and in urban districts, like mine, that number is close to or over 50%. That means the students most in need of qualified, experienced teachers are least likely to get them.

    Look, teaching isn't simply a matter of "being smarter than your students," as Wendy so glibly noted. There are things you only learn with experience and training, like classroom management, how to individualize instruction, best paractices, and more.

    And a higher turnover rate will emphatically not keep your property taxes lower. If a principal, department chair, program coordinator, lead teacher, mentor, or school district has to take the time and resources to get new teachers up to speed (and, in the case of a school district, advertise for, process, and hire new applicants), that's time and resources not spent actually educating a child.

    Training a call center worker (and, hey, I spent many a summer as one) is nothing on the order of training a teacher. The longest I spent training for a call center job was 12 hours. I spent two sememsters in student teaching and still didn't feel I had the hang of it until into my third year as a teacher.

    In my perfect world, turnover, outside of retirees, would be zero. That 15% is the norm does not make it acceptible.

    Teachers in private schools tend to be paid less, have lower turnover, higher morale, and better results.
    Source, please? And, if possible, I'd like you to distinguish between the aforementioned long-standing private schools with track records of success and the new bumper crop of voucher schools that have sprung up to suck taxpayer money.

    As for morale, I’ve seen two forces at work in schools that lead to poor morale.  First, it is in the teachers’ best interest to complain.  [. . .] Second, the union, like unions everywhere, encourage the teachers to be unhappy.
    What I said about morale has zero to do with pay or the union's attempts to keep us unhappy. What I said has everything to do with losing my best friend to a non-teaching job, plus watching the best teacher in my department walk away, not to mention trying to work knowing that a significant number of teaching positions in my school are being filled by long-term subs because people just aren't lining up to get into this profession.

    I will not dignify your attacks on the union with a response; as I said earlier, you seem to have a skewed sense of what unions are and what they do.

    You are a 10th grade English teacher.  How would a Masters in English make you any better at teaching tenth graders?  Especially when only about a third of your class is even proficient at reading in the first place?  The problem with how the pay vs. training structure in public education works is that teachers are encouraged to get more education, even if that additional education has little or no relationship to the job that the teacher performs.
    You're wrong on several counts, here. One, my MA is in teaching, not English. (Though I would refer you back to the Ed. Week excerpt about content-area training.) Few teachers hold MAs or MSs in their subject areas; most of us pursue higher degrees in curriculum, administration, special needs education, or other education-related fields. Two, we do not get paid more for higher education outside of our fields--in other words, if it has no relationship to the job we do, tough cookies. I have seen tachers fight for years to try to get the district to accept their MBAs or other degrees to no avail. You're right that a degree in physics wouldn't help me teach better--but I wouldn't get paid more for it, either.

    In the private sector, we are compensated based on performance.  I want the public sector employees to be compensated based on the same metric.
    How do you judge? Students are not widgets, so many of which I can produce in an hour. Really, this is not a rhetorical question: I want to know, Owen, by what metric you would judge me. This merit-based pay thing rolls around fairly often, and I have yet to see a standard that makes sense and is fair. If you've got one, please share.

    Wendy was not talking about the specific mechanics of how WEAC works. She was speaking to the issues that WEAC advocates that she (and I) believes are detrimental to the education of children in Wisconsin.  WEAC exists for the betterment of teachers--not the betterment of education for our children.  Some folks try to argue that better teachers equals better education.  After 35 years of following the teachers unions’ lead and ending up with a wretched education for our kids, I think that their argument falls flat.
    I'm sorry, I guess I should have gotten that MA in English to know that a sentence like "WEAC steals tax dollars in the way they negotiate contracts for teachers" really means something other than what, on its face, it clearly says. My bad.

    But, two questions, and, again, serious answers would be appreciated:
    1. WEAC is a union, as is my local. Unions, by definition, serve one basic purpose: to protect their membership. So to say that teachers' unions protect their member teachers is like saying that the microwave pops your popcorn. It's what they do. Why is this wrong?

    2. I'm sorry, but how in the world can you say that WEAC's leadership has been "wretched" when by most reports (this one, for example), Wisconsin ranks at or near the top in educational quality? Yes, Milwaukee, in particular has issues, but the state overall does an outstanding job that you cannot help but be proud of.

    I guess what's most disturbing about your last statement, and it is echoed in your opening "rat's ass" comment, is that you show a certain proud ignorance (ignorant pride?) about this subject. What you say is not true, is in fact laughable to anyone who knows the truth, and yet it has the ring of truth within your own twisted world-view. WEAC may not do any negotiating, you say, but since unions are bad (teachers' unions in particular), any negotiation is tainted by the shadowy presence of WEAC in the next room. Or, WEAC may only want full funding for four-year-old kindergarten so districts aren't cutting PhyEd and music to pay for it, but since WEAC is evil, it's only a matter of time until 4K is compulsory.

    If you have issues with public schools or unions in general--and I believe you do--fine. But don't make up lies out of whole cloth or talk in unsupportable generalities when it comes to education in this state. Maybe there's a reason why the initials of your blog are B and S.