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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, April 30, 2005

At TPL

No posting until later; I'm at the People's Legislature all day. Then we may go see The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy tonight. So maybe no posting until tomorrow, when I'd review both.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Tech Notes

My battery is here! Yippee!

Gostats, though, is out of here. In the last couple of months it has been horribly unreliable, and today I log in and what do I see? Two hits. Total. It's bad enough that they lost my stats in December 2003 (twice!), resetting me to zero, but now they have done it again. So they're out, even though I like some of their stats features a little better than Sitemeter. Maybe one day I'll spring for the full Sitemeter package, though.

Friday Random Ten

Simon says.

1. "When It Don't Come Easy" Patty Griffin from Impossible Dream
2. "Crush" Dave Matthews Band from Before These Crowded Streets
3. "Empty Pages" Traffic from Feelin' Alright: The Best of Traffic
4. "Innertube" The Nields from Play
5. "Are You Out There" Dar Williams from End of the Summer
6. "Scene of the Crime" Vance Gilbert from Fugitives
7. "Like a Mountain" Peter Mayer from Million Year Mind
8. "Lemon Marmalade" Kate McDonnell from Where the Mangoes Are
9. "Everybody Hurts" REM from Automatic for the People
10. "Turn the Lights Back On" Lucy Kaplansky from Ten Year Night

I'm excited; we've got tickets to see Lucy Kaplansky tonight!

Dog Bites Man

Big surprise!
Commission rules Walker's e-mail didn't break laws
The Milwaukee County Election Commission unanimously ruled Thursday that County Executive Scott Walker violated no campaign laws when his office urged potential voters to approve a referendum on a borrowing plan.

Commission Chairman Douglas Haag said elected officials are expected to provide constituents with information on important issues. [. . .] Commissioner Jack Melvin III said that while Walker used a public employee for a political purpose, the e-mail was no different than an ordinary press release expressing the executive's opinion. [. . .]

County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. and three other supervisors raised questions last week about whether Walker's actions crossed the line from education to express advocacy that courts have frowned upon. [. . .]

Weishan said he was not surprised at the ruling because he said Haag had appeared to prejudge the case in public comments last week.
For background, see my previous posts here and here.

Yeah, this is just "ordinary." Remember what happened: "At issue is the legality of Walker's use of office staff to send e-mails urging a 'yes' vote on the April 5 referendum on his $261 million borrowing plan involving pension funds. The non-binding ballot question produced a 57% negative vote on the idea." That doesn't sound like "information on important issues." This sounds like specific issue advocacy, and that is not kosher. I don't pay my taxes to further Walker: Tosa Ranger's political ambitions or personal agenda.

And this: "Election Commission Chairman Doug Haag, a Walker appointee, immediately pronounced his preliminary opinion that Walker had violated nothing. Haag said he had not read Walker's written request and was unfamiliar with the facts but felt that there likely was no problem."

And, wouldn't you know it, there wasn't! Lurvely.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wow. People really hate Jim Sensenbrennner.

Including me. Twice.

This all stems from the actions of House Judiciary Committee members under F. Jim's control, when they re-wrote--quite inaccurately--Democratic amendments intended to protect the innocent. I'm not just blog pimping here--I want you to read the links and the links in those posts. Then sign up to help Bryan Kennedy beat this guy.

More early death

I'm not sure how a fruit fly's life span compares with an iBook's battery, but my iBook's battery went to Li-ion heaven today.

Luckily, I'm still under AppleCare, so I get a new one. But--and this is the really bad news--it means no liveblogging from the People's Legislature this Saturday (unless the battery gets overnighted). What's that you say? You haven't registered to attend TPL yet? Well, you'd better do that now, eh?

I used to think heart disease would kill me

Turns out, it will be sleep deprivation:
While most of us can't seem to function with less than seven hours of sleep, some people seem just fine with three or four. The difference, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is genetic. [. . .] And while the gene was isolated and identified in fruit flies, the researchers say that people have it, too. [. . .]

The one thing that did plague these short-sleepers was a short life span: While normal flies have a life span of about three to four months, these non-sleepers tended to die two to three weeks earlier.
I guess I'd better start getting more than four hours, eh?

Though, for my money, this is the best line in the story:

"And while the human brain is arguably more complex than that of a fly, Cirelli said, she believes the work will translate to people."

Arguably. Heh.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Updates on my job. As long as it lasts.

I'm not gonna link to 'em, but you probably all remember my various and sundry angry, often incoherent rants about the changes I expect with the district following the election of "reformer" Danny Godberg to the board.

Here's an update of some the crap coming my way:

The board elected a new president. This is not unexpected. It is also not terribly good news for the public schools in Milwaukee. For starters, I like Stacie's take: "As he stated numerous times during the minutes-long interview, Ken Johnson is a reformer. He's apparently been a reformer since he got elected. But he never once defined reformer, said what he was planning to reform, or how he was planning on reforming what he was planning to reform." Ahh, the vagaries of fresh power.

More, from the paper:
[Johnson] said he plans "to help empower the superintendent" to move quickly on changes he said had been "held hostage by process." He cited his support for a phonics-based curriculum known as Direct Instruction and for Andrekopoulos' high school reform effort, which aims to create dozens of new, smaller high schools in the city.
I keep threatening--and maybe someday I'll have the chance to get to it--to do a complete take-down of the superintendent's "small schools" baloney. And don't get me started on phonics versus whole language, either; the bane of my existence is students who a) spell phonetically and b) can sound out and read just fine but have no sense of what they just read. I teach as much reading with my regular education high-schoolers as I do anything else. If Ken Johnson really wanted to help Milwaukee students read, he'd work on getting parents reading to their kids, since that, after all, is the best indicator of how well students will learn to read in school.

Former board member Larry O'Neill took five with the daily paper the other day. He's the one who retired, leaving us with a majority on the board hell-bent on dismantling everything from successful high schools to my union.

The superintendent delivered his budget:
[The] budget proposal for 2005-'06 that continues reforms launched by Superintendent William Andrekopoulos and contains no major new steps is based on two big assumptions: That Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's state budget proposal, calling for a shift of more school funding back to state government, will win approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature; and that the School Board and the administration will win an arbitration proceeding with Milwaukee's teachers union that focuses largely on health insurance costs.
I hate to say it, but there's a good chance that the superintendent will lose on both counts. The Snacilbupers in Madison, of course, will sink Doyle's plan. And the superintendent's own intransigence has left us without a contract for nearly two years. If he would have accepted the union's proposal, we'd be saving a cool $1 million a month or more. But he's got an agenda that has everything to do with rigid ideology and nothing to do with what's best for the kids.

In other budget news, next year we lose another 130 teachers, and more of the central office support staff. Notice that he hasn't stepped up to return the five-digit bonuses he's been raking in, the car, or the health club membership. It's nice that he sacrifices, isn't it?

Finally, on a lighter note, the former administrator of the Mandela School--you know, the guy who bought a couple of Mercedes Benzes with the taxpayer money destined for his choice school--wants to take back his guilty plea in the criminal case. He had blurted out "I'm guilty!" in the middle of his trial. He is blaming it on his previous lawyer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Mr. Paul's Social Security "Fix"

Last week, Wisconsin whippersnapper congressman Paul Ryan formally introduced a revised bill to "fix" the Social Security "crisis" (there is no crisis, remember?). Mr. Paul and his partner-in-crisismongereing, New Hampshirite Little John Sununu, laid this egg last year. But the scaled back on the plan, and now they're trying in earnest to sell Egg v2.0.

Let's take a look at it. Yes, I'm going to get a little wonky. And, yes, it's important to note that I'm not an economist. But it's my blog. Here's how the the plan works:
But the Ryan plan, co-authored by Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), is different from most other plans circulating in Congress because it combines large personal accounts with no Social Security benefit cuts and no tax increases.

How do they pay for the plan?

The two lawmakers say they would rely in large part on savings in other government programs to both shore up Social Security and fund the upfront costs of creating individual accounts.
Seems like a miracle, eh? We're gonna solve a deficit problem by spending less money. Woo-hoo! Brilliant! I wish I had though of that. Maybe then I could be a congressman!

Okay, that's not fair, since I only quoted the spare newspaper summary. Here's how Mr. Paul's website sells it, under the heading of "Financing the Transistion":
• The short-term Social Security surpluses now projected until 2017 are devoted to financing the transition – instead of fueling other government spending
First, keeping Congress's grubby mitts off of the Social Security surplus is not necessarily a bad idea. I mean, I think it would be kind of cool if we took those surpluses and put them in a safe place, like a, um, whaddyacallit, a lockbox.

Okay, no, seriously: If the Congress didn't have that $145 billion (according to the Social Security Trustees), it would have to find it somewhere. I know that, given the current state of affairs, that's not all that much--less than 10%. On the other hand, it could seriously impact the budget deficit if, as Mr. Paul wants, that $145 billion buys private accounts for people. And how much private account would it buy? Given that there are roughly 145 million workers in the economy right now, that's about $1000 for all of us. So between now and when I retire, that would give me, um, compound the interest, carry the one . . . $77,000. My golden years will be great.
• A national spending limitation measure would limit the growth of Federal spending to 3.6% per year for eight years, with growth in subsequent years at 4.6%, consistent with current CBO projections. The savings coming from the difference from projected spending is maintained until all short-term debt issued to fund the transition is paid off in full
I could live with this. Trwo things, though: One, good luck with that. Two, if we can curb spending, we can direct that reduction into shoring up the Social Security trust fund and completely bypass the whole risky account scheme (more on that later).
• One of the basic assumptions of the Ryan-Sununu plan is that increased investment through personal accounts will result in increased tax revenues to the General Fund. The Ryan-Sununu plan recaptures a set portion of these projected revenue increases and dedicates them to the Social Security Trust Fund
You know what they say about when you assume, right? I'm also waiting for the accolades from the investment-industrial complex about the new high taxes. Besides, this is one of the things that rankles me most about private accounts: The big Wall Street investment firms will be raking in the fees--and those fees are our tax money. I'd rather not give my tax money to someone as profit.

But there is more to this than just an outrageous transition plan. Again, from Mr. Paul's website:
From 2006-2015, the Ryan-Sununu legislation would allow workers to devote to tax-free personal accounts 5 percentage points of the current 12.4% Social Security payroll tax on the first $10,000 in wages and 2.5 percentage points on taxable wages above that. Starting in 2016, workers will then be able to shift 10 percentage points of the current 12.4% on the first $10,000 in wages and 5 percentage points on taxable wages above that. Once fully phased-in, this creates a progressive structure with an average account contribution among all workers of 6.4 percentage points.
A couple of problems with this. First, if a significant portion of workers enroll the cost of this plan considerably exceeds the current surplus. Trimming spending and praying for higher corporate taxes may help, but let's face it: Under Mr. Paul's plan, we're going to be doing some deficit spending. This is not necessarily a big deal--we're deficit spending now--but why do we need to front-load the deficit spending when we can wait, say 25 years, when, jeebus willing, we're not busy fighting two wars and struggling to keep the economy afloat in $55-a-barrel oil.

Second, this part of the plan runs into a later part of the plan: "The official score [by the "Chief Actuary"] shows that by the end of the 75-year projection period [. . .] the [payroll] tax would be reduced to 5.18%." Oooookaaaay. So tell me how I'm going to put ten percentage points of my payroll tax into a private account if the payroll tax is only 5%. Of course, that's 75 years into the future, when everything will be completely different, and, for all we know, the Trust Fund won't run out.

More:
Workers will be enrolled in a “life-cycle” fund that automatically adjusts the worker’s portfolio based on his or her age - moving near-retirees into safe, government-backed bond funds. Workers may stay with this “life-cycle” fund or choose from a list of five index funds similar to those found in the federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).
Oh, yes, the TSP. Not even the hand-picked audiences at Bush's staged events buy into the TSP. And, come on, Mr. Paul, if you're going to give us private accounts, then at least let us invest them the way we want.

After all, Mr. Paul, your website also notes that "The accounts are backed up by a guaranteed minimum benefit equal to Social Security promises under current law." So then, if the stock market fails us--I say if because, as you know, that's never happened before--then we will be deficit spending anyway. And, really, who are you kidding: You're basically admitting, with this safety-valve feature, that private accounts are inherently risky. And Social Security Insurance is not supposed to be a risk.

Let's face it, Mr. Paul's plan does nothing to address the solvency questions--such as they are--that simply adjusting federal spending won't do. When the surpluses run out, we can either panic or adjust our spending habits. When the Trust Fund runs out, we can either panic or adjust our spending. And there are very simple things we can do to stretch out both the surpluses and the Trust Fund, like upping the the income limit on the payroll tax. That's not an absolute fix, of course, but combined with otherwise prudent fiscal policy, Social Security will last, safely and in tact, for decades to come.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Frist vs. Feingold

A decade or so ago, I was still in college; I had just wrapped up a practicum teaching English at an urban high school in south-central Wisconsin. I spent my nights preparing to star in a staged reading of several Harold Pinter plays. I had a scruffy beard, long hair--certainly more than I have now. I stayed up until all hours of the night reading, playing guitar, getting to know my future wife. I was living on work-study and (stupidly!) credit cards, cafeteria dinners and frozen pizzas cooked in a toaster oven. Every week, I'd hit the IHOP at 3 AM for pancakes or biscuits and gravy. Mostly, I was keen on a hell-bent liberal philosophy of living, teaching, and governing. I was ready to conquer the world and leave it a better place.

Today, I am different in many ways. I'm a homeowner, a responsible dad to a rabbit and a crazy dog. I have a job, with supervisory responsibilities. I have a wife. I have much, much less hair. And, mostly, though I still want to change the world, I know it will only come by fixing one sentence fragment at a time. Is it all right for me to have changed? Am I allowed to believe some different things, act different ways than I did then?

Well, Owen (my arch nemesis) has lain into Everyone's Favorite Senator™, Russ Feingold, for believing something different now--in this case, about the use of the filibuster against judicial nominees. Back when Clinton was trying to get his judges confirmed, the Republican majority, when they couldn't use their special "holds" or "blue slips" to keep the nominees off the floor, threatened filibusters. At around that time, Russ voted in favor of another measure--completely unrelated to judicial nominees--that would curb the filibuster.

Now, Russ is in favor of allowing Democrats to filibuster Bush's bad nominees, so we don't end up with extremists on the court. (Yes, I know, I'm biased.) Says Russ, "My view has changed, because of the abuse of power by those running the Senate." And, frankly, when I look at extreme ideologues like Frist, I can't say I blame him.

On top of that, of course, for four years now we've heard nothing but grumbling from over there on the right about how obstructionist Democrats are, and how Republicans would never do any such thing. But, of course, they do: The Frister himself voted to filibuster one of those Clinton nominees; and the Republicans blocked a total of sixty Clinton judges, compared to the ten that Bush has had blocked.

My non-nemesis Dean sees a lot of this for what it is: standard political posturing. When a thing helps my side, I'm for it; when a thing hurts my side, I want to get rid of it.

But here's the thing: Russ has admitted his opinion changed. On the other hand, you've got Frist, et al., who try to act all innocent as if they had been doing God's work all along. (I have no doubt that they believe they are.) Yes, again, I'm biased, but I have to give Russ credit here. Frist, on the other hand, is a sanctimonious fool.

The Mailbag

To: NPR's Morning Edition
From: your humble folkbum
Date: 25 April 2005
Re: The "Nuclear Option"

On Monday, April 25, David Welna reported on Senator Bill Frist's video appearance at the "Justice Sunday" event. In the story, Welna rightly points out Frist's misrepresentation of something Democratic Senator Harry Reid said. Yet, Welna falls for another Republican misrepresentation.

Welna refers to the Republicans' plan to disallow filibusters during Senate confirmation hearings on judges, saying that, quote, "Democrats call [it] the 'nuclear option.' "

In reality, "nuclear option" is a term originally coined by Republicans. They used the phrase repeatedly until the last few weeks, when they learned that it did not poll very well. In fact, Senator Frist himself used the phrase in a November 16, 2004 interview with Juan Williams on Morning Edition! ("Frist on Advancing the Bush Second-Term Agenda," about 2:30 into the interview)

I expect a higher standard from National Public Radio; I do not expect you and your reporters to be played by politicans' deceptions and tricks with language.

My Music Monday: (You Think You've Got It) Rough

I quoted a little bit of this song a while back, but I thought I'd put the whole thing out there, annotated for the curious. I will be playing this with the Portage Road Songwriter's Guild at the Coffee House on May 7, if you'd like to hear it live. If you don't live in or near Milwaukee, and don't want to fly in for the show, you'll have to wait until I record my next CD. Sorry.

(You Think You’ve Got It) Rough
© 2004 Jay Bullock

Sparrow caught a cold like falling down, didn’t see the floor
Didn’t see the doctor, the free clinic isn’t anymore
Thinking, Gotta go to work today, to pay the day care, gotta pay the rent
Twenty thousand people every year go the way that Sparrow went
That’s a whole new 9/11 every other month
And you think you’ve got it rough

Rabbit chased his dream to the memory hole, watched it disappear
Looking for a nicer farmer to guard the gardens here
He was blown north by a cold draft from his red state
Found himself at the holy site, kneeling at World Trade
Rabbit quit his chase at the barrel of his gun
And you think you’ve got it rough
You control the church the TV
You control the courts and DC
You wear the flag like it’s some kind of shield
You want the gubmint off your back
You want the spend without the tax
You want to play both hands of the deal
Meanwhile . . .

Fox is in his sandy hole, sandy helmet, sandy boots
You put a magnet on your car, and that’s all you do
Every night he prays he’ll live to see the son he doesn’t know
Every night you pray to the god of your favorite TV show
And Fox is going house to house looking for who knows what
And you think you’ve got it rough

You’d rather try to keep one down than to bring one hundred up
And you think you’ve got it rough

Sometimes I just want to stop and scream “Enough”
And you think you’ve got it rough

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sorry for not blogging

For those of you who hang on my every word*. Busy day--grandparent-in-law visiting, dog escaping, lawn mowing, paper grading, piercing headache. Some of those were even planned.

More tomorrow, when I hope to get to a wonky kind of discussion about Mr. Paul's** Social Security proposal, and possibly even how Mark Green isn't. Green, that is.

*Please, I'm not that important.
**Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Two Chances to Meet your humble folkbum . . .

. . . on each of the next two Saturdays.

Frist up, on April 30, the People's Legislature is making its way to Milwaukee, and I will be there. I'm not scheduled to do a talk or present or play guitar or anything, I'm expecting just to be a plain citizen, which will make it harder for you to find me, sure, but also easier for me to deny any involvement when Homeland Security or the FBI busts us up for daring to take the power to the people.

The People's Legislature is organized by the good folks at Fighting Bob, which supports progressive politics in the mold of late Wisconsin Senator "Fighting Bob" LaFollette. Here's more about the PL, from the PL website:
The People's Legislature is a unique, multi-partisan citizen assembly devoted to building a statewide, grassroots movement to take back government and rehabilitate democracy in Wisconsin. [. . .]

By focusing on what unites us rather than spending a lot of time discussing what divides us, we can restore our democracy. While we all may differ on what issues belong at the top of our state's agenda, and we may differ on how to solve those problems, what we all have in common is that none of us will be satisfied with what government does until we do something about how our government conducts business.

The need for a healthy, functioning democracy that allows the collective voice of the people to be heard loud and clear at the Capitol is what binds us together. Now more than ever, we need to find common ground, rather than dwell on our differences.

Your voice counts, whether you identify as democrat, republican, green, libertarian, independent, or politically homeless.
Next up is Saturday, May 7, when I'll be playing a show with the other members of the songwriting workshop that I'm a part of. Yeah, I know, you wonder why you should bother to come to a show like that when you'd rather just listen to me wailing in all my glory at a solo gig. But I assure you, when all six of us are on the stage, I consider myself sixth in terms of songwriting and musical talent. In other words, this will be a much, much better show.

In addition to your humble folkbum, the cast of characters will include
• Carley Baer, an incredible young talent in the tradition of Ani DiFranco and the whole "indy grrrrl" scene she inspired. Worth the $4 cover just for her.
• Eric Baer, from whom daughter Carley got the genes. He's got an easy style, but with aggressive, often biting lyrics that range from bad love to no love to the political.
• Mark Plotkin, Milwaukee's best home inspector. But he also has a dry wit and sensitive take on any subject he approaches. His songs can be fun or deeply personal, but all accompanied by capable fingerpicking.
• Chris Straw, whom you may know as the bass player from the almost-famous Moxie Chicks.
• Barb Webber of Fair Webber, the oft-WAMI nominated (and again this year!), occasionally WAMI-winning group she is in with her husband Tom.
• Special guests!
As I said, the show is just $4; where else can you get this much entertainment for so little? Bring your friends, your kids, your neighbors, anyone. It will be a great time:
Saturday, May 7, 8:00 PM
The Coffee House
631 N. 19th St. (19th and Wisconsin)
Hope to see you at one or the other. Or both.

Bad Stuff is Bad! or, Another TABOR Rant

The daily today takes a brave stand--are you ready for this?--against legislative pork.

They're talking about the state budget wranglings currently stinking up Madison, specifically in this case, a road-building project that doesn't need to happen any time in this decade. But the road-builders' special interest money bought them this pretty pork chop.

The MJS goes on to connect the pork issue to TABOR, which they (and I) oppose: "No doubt, this is why some legislators favor a taxpayer bill of rights. Unable to restrain their own predilection for spending, they assume no other lawmakers can, either, so they're asking taxpayers to 'stop us before we spend again.' " No doubt, you TABOR supporters--if any of you still read my incoherent ramblings--are thinking, "YES! Please stop them!" To which I say, November 2006 is as good a time as any to put a stop to it.

But here's what the paper doesn't say, and one thing I haven't really heard much discussion of surrounding TABOR: The amendment would move any increase in spending beyond a set limit and any net increase in taxation to the realm of referrendum. (I dread the day Wisconsin becomes like California, with its rule by ballot initiative!) If the road-builders are willing to spend nearly $30,000 in a single state senate race to buy themselves a road contract, what makes you think they wouldn't spend that much--or 33 times that much--on a referrendum campaign? What about Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce? The Wisconsin Education Association Council? These are all huge lobbies now, and you had better believe that they will be out in force on every single ballot question.

And, considering the hot water Walker: Tosa Ranger* has found himself in for advocating a position during the recent Milwaukee County non-binding referrendum question, this means that the citizenry and local governments will not only be outgunned by special interest spending, they won't be able to advocate for anything at all! The only commercials you will see on TV will be from the same special interest forces that rule the airwaves now, advocating the same spending and taxing patterns we already have. Basically, they are just shifting the lobbying from Madison to your living room.

Look, I'm no fan of Madison lobbyists (which reminds me--register now for the People's Legislature next week!), but one of the reasons why I vote is so that I son't have to put up with WMC and WEAC on my TV any more that I do now. They are unregulated, unrestricted, and certainly not shy about shading the truth to get the piece of pork that they want.

In my mind, the best defense against pork is to vote out the people that lobbyists buy and sell. TABOR is just smoke and mirrors.

* Scott Walker, with props to Stacie for suggesting the nickname.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Friday Random Ten

I just follow the Queen Bee.

1. "32 Flavors" Ani DiFranco from Dilate
2. "Bessie Smith" Bob Dylan and The Band from The Basement Tapes
3. "Get Out of This House" Shawn Colvin from A Few Small Repairs
4. "Sea Brazil" Bela Fleck & the Flecktones from Bela Fleck & the Flecktones
5. "Just Won't Burn" Susan Tedeschi from Just Won't Burn
6. "Kerosene Hat" Craker from Kerosene Hat
7. "Can You understand My Joy" John Gorka from Temporary Road
8. "Che Guevara T-Shirt" Richard Shindell from Vuelta
9. "Check Me Out (Hey Hey Hey)" Peter Mulvey from The Trouble with Poets
10. "Goodnight, Irene" The Nields from Abigail

Hm. Don't know what's up with all the title tracks today--three, counting the Bela Fleck eponymity . . .

Some Friday Links

Some of you may have heard pieces of No Child Left Behind news in the last couple of weeks: Connecticut is thinking of dropping out, as is Utah, and a big study just out says achievement gains have slowed since NCLB passed. And you may have wondered why I haven't talked about it. Well, eRobin is on the case at TAS.

This site--"Irregular Wisconsin"--doesn't link to me yet, even though I emailed them a long time ago to be included. Maybe if I link to them first . . .

I don't link to Barbara O'Brien often enough. That changes now, with a handfull of links I bookmarked a few weeks back intending to link to them. Read them in order: one two three four.

As a follow-up to what I wrote last week about Intelligent Design and Evolution, Culture Warrior Ed Brayton tells us a story of Creationist/ ID controversy in Michigan. What's meaningful here is that the teachers teaching ID--and remember, ID does not identify or advocate for a particular "designer"--were also mixing in young-earth Geology specific to Biblical creation.

Finally, an up-to-date link: Dean Mundy, Suburban Fella, shows why he's the thoughtful conservative in this excellent essay that needs to be passed around the Republican leadership. Thanks, Dean.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Changing Minds (Even If No One Reads My Blog)

Yesterday I posted about how Scott Walker's flunky Doug Haag had pronounced Walker (still looking for that nickname, people) innocent without even a hearing. Well, it turns out that all that pressure I applied from here on my futon in my jammies worked!
The Milwaukee County Election Commission will meet next week to review County Executive Scott Walker's use of taxpayer funds to advocate that voters approve a referendum on his pension-borrowing plan.

Commission Chairman Doug Haag said the panel on April 28 would review that and other issues raised by four county supervisors who have questioned the legality of a Walker e-mail sent before the referendum.

In a long e-mail to various groups, Walker's office described the proposal as "pension relief bonds" aimed at helping relieve county fiscal woes linked to the extravagant pension benefits approved in 2000. The e-mail asked for a "yes" vote. [. . .]

Haag initially balked, saying even before he received Walker's request that he saw no violation and that it was unlikely the Election Commission had jurisdiction. But on Wednesday he agreed to have the commission review the matter. [. . .]

Wisconsin election law defines as "political purpose" - not public purpose - actions taken to influence a particular vote at a referendum. Also, common law based on judicial decisions in other states has led public officials in Wisconsin to refrain from expressly advocating a yes or no vote on referendums, notably on school building referendums.
For my next trick: I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars, I want a million dollars.

Why We Can't Cut Art from Schools

Because artists have the power to create massive changes in public opinion. Political cartoonists, do, anyway. At least, so says a lawyer for indicted influence-peddler Scooter Jensen:

"Jensen's lawyer, Stephen Meyer, said Madison-area 'political cartoons and editorials' have 'poisoned' potential Dane County jurors against the Waukesha County legislator."

Really? Are you sure has nothing to do with the overwhelming prevalence of Ds in the party affiliation column there in Madison?

Flashback, March 2, 2005:
Most Republicans have no problem with the content of the Cornyn's amendment, sources said, pointing out that ending "venue shopping" was part of recently passed legislation to restrict where consumers can file class-action suits.
Where's the Republican outcry against Scooter's venue shopping?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I'm Confused

Don't you normally have to live in a congressional district to run for that seat? So what's John Gard (R-Sun Prairie) up to, running for Mark Green's seat? I made a map, to be helpful:

Scott Walker = Tom DeLay?

Hey, can't we at least ask the question?

So Scott Walker has this problem about using County time, money, and resources to promote himself--something that would come in very handy for anyone running for Governor. For example:
Supervisors John Weishan, Gerry Broderick, Dan Devine and Peggy West asked Walker in a letter last week to justify the use of his office to promote a position on the [pension] referendum. [. . .] Their letter also questions the legality of Walker's past use of campaign funds in a separate instance, to pay for automated phone calls to the public to garner support for his budget. Walker responded that a State Elections Board attorney's opinion supported that use.

On the pension referendum, Walker sent an e-mail using county letterhead to the Greater Milwaukee Committee, various chambers of commerce, health-care trade organizations and other groups.
I remember getting that phone call (though I guess I'm not good enough to get on Scott's email list), and at the time I was quite amazed at the audacity of it. I didn't call in to complain--I was in a bit of a post-election funk--but apparently dozens of people did.

But Scott shouldn't worry (from the first link):
"Election Commission Chairman Doug Haag, a Walker appointee, immediately pronounced his preliminary opinion that Walker had violated nothing. Haag said he had not read Walker's written request and was unfamiliar with the facts but felt that there likely was no problem. The dispute might not even have to come to the full commission, he said. Haag [is] a Republican Party leader in the county and active Walker supporter."
Remember what I quoted to you yesterday about Tom DeLay and the House ethics committee? "The difference between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior. Mr. DeLay changed the ethics committee." When you appoint a sycophant to the post of watchdog, you can bet he'll never bark at you.

Now, to be clear, I am not a lawyer and I am hopped up on cold medicine; for all I know, Scott Walker didn't actually do anything illegal. But there are ways to clear your name besides having a toady proclaim your innocence without even the barest investigation. I would hate to think what a Walker administration would do to cover its ethical tracks, given his tendency to walk a fine ethical line and his problems with the truth.

--

By the way, since I've been referring to the incumbent governor as J-Dizzle, I feel I need nicknames for Walker and Green. Wizzle and Grizzle really won't cut it. Consider this a contest: Winner gets, oh, I don't know, sincere appreciation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

No Controlling Legal Authority

You know, every time I hear or read some conservative or pundit explain that Tom DeLay has done nothing technically illegal, I cast my mind back to the days of Al Gore's statement that there was "no controlling legal authority" to come down on him for any fundraising violations he may have committed. And I remember the chorus of howls and wails from the punditocracy and the right-wing bloviators over that comment, and how they drudged it up during his run for the White House in 2000.

Three important things to remember: One, there is indeed a difference between what's legal and what's right. Was it legal for Bill Clinton to be serviced by someone not his wife in the Oval Office? Yes. But was it right? (It was illegal to lie about it later.)

Two, if Tom DeLay did break the law, there are institutions that will ferret out that truth (district attorneys, a free press--theoretically). Until then, we have only the evidence before us that Tom DeLay did some pretty shady--if pretty common--things.

Three, though, the mechanism supposedly in place for addressing shady behavior on the part of Representatives like DeLay is the House Ethics Committee, which has been made toothless by those who benefitted from DeLay's generosity over the years. As Barney Frank (no stranger to ethics violations he!) pointed out, "I, 15 years ago, had a problem because I behaved inappropriately. The ethics committee stepped in. Newt Gingrich had a problem. He was reprimanded; the ethics committee stepped in. The difference between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior. Mr. DeLay changed the ethics committee."

Indeed. Cigar, Mr. DeLay?

Monday, April 18, 2005

I'm a hack

Another hack cop-out post over at LSF.

The Practical Press

Some friends of mine, new and old, have a new thing going on called the Practical Press. It's a space for political bloggers to flex their creative writing muscles. Check it out.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Evolution v. Creationism

[UPDATE] Welcome, David Horowitz readers! Just FYI, my riposte to the FrontPageMag story is here.

Recent weeks have brought us the Terri Schiavo debacle, in which prominent public Christians everywhere saw a train and rode it until the money stopped coming in; the death of the Pope and everyone who had ever once called him senile or wacko trying to say how much Bush was just as holy as he was; the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference, featuring conservative activists quoting Satlin; and, tonight, "Justice Sunday," wherein the nation's Republican and Christian leaders gather to make the case on national television that Democrat=Godless Heathen.

So it should come as no surprise that social conservatives are also taking the fight against science to new heights, 80 years after the "Scopes monkey trial." We're seeing increased efforts around the country to remove science from science classrooms and/ or add "Intelligent Design" to the curriculum of the public schools. The "Crossroads" section of today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is chock full of for and against opinion pieces. You can read through them if you want, but it's hardly worth it.

The ID argument all boils down to an almost-reasonable, "Why can't we at least ask the question?" This is the same argument that, for example, the Swiftboat fools used in the presidential campaign: "Sure, every piece of documentary evidence that exists suggests that John Kerry was a war hero, but, you know, can't we at least ask the question about whether he was?"

Or, "Of course there's no good evidence that the Clintons ordered the deaths of Vince Foster and Ron Brown, but can't we at least ask the question whether Hillary might be murderer?"

For a group of people who are passionately opposed to liberals' "moral relavitism," they sure seem to be all about "asking the question," eh?

The ID problem is much more insidious than slander against Kerry or the Clintons, since it involves teaching our children things that simply are not true or supported by the evidence. A while ago, I wrote what I thought was a pretty good explanation of ID, why it is not even remotely scientifically sound, and how ID supporters are trying to undermine the teaching of actual science in schools. I had no illusions that one more bright beacon of truth would shut the ID crowd up, of course; I knew the fight would not end so easily.

But the arguments for ID and against evolution have gotten more insidious. Take this guy: "But pastor and parent Ray Mummert, 54, explained their point. 'If we continue to indoctrinate our young people with non-religious principles, we're headed for an internal destruction of this society,' he said. [. . .] 'We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture,' he said."

It puts me in mind of the "Bart's Comet" episode of "The Simpsons." In order to make certain that another comet never threatens to destroy the town again, the good people of Springfield decide to destroy the observatory. When it becomes a problem for people to be educated, then you know we've gone too far. Is it not enough that we have people quoting Stalin? Do we also have to start rounding up the college professors and putting them in camps? David Horowitz is this close to being that explicit.

I used to be more glib about the whole creationist thing. (I would say, "I'll make you a deal. We'll teach creation at school if you start teaching algebra at church.") But this fight is getting uglier. How long until we have more Eric Rudolphs on our hands, but this time killing biology professors, archeologists, or high-school science teachers? Every time the Christian right ratchets up the rhetoric against rational thought, more people die.

Yesterday, I linked to Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not A Christian." In it, Russell makes a number points that bear repeating, and that bear directly on this subject:
I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can. [. . .]

One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. [. . .] That is the idea--that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion. [. . .]

Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.
Just imagine, if you will, if the people behind last week's "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference and this week's "Justice Sunday" instead used their resources and their pull to draw attention to the 20,000 people who die needlessly every year because they lack health insurance. They could raise money to buy prescription drugs for the elderly or purchase child care for working single parents. I'm not saying Jesus really lived, but I'd like to believe that those things would be his priorities if he came back today, not "activist judges."

Two bumper stickers I am fond of: Lord, please protect me from your followers and If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve. I think it's time for some of these "followers" to evolve.

(Postscript: More on the current threats to science and education can be found at the Why? files.)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Boys, Boys

A bill that would require voters to show a photo ID has touched off an unusually nasty feud between two veteran Democratic legislators who represent the same south side Milwaukee voters.

Rep. Pedro Colón criticized Sen. Tim Carpenter for voting for the photo ID bill (AB 63). If the measure becomes law, Colón said, it would suppress the votes of the poor, minorities and elderly. [. . .]

Responding, Carpenter noted that he at least voted on the issue this time. Colón was not present when the state Assembly passed the voter ID bill on Feb. 24.
Carpenter knows how I feel; I'm with Colón on this one.

But what ticks me off most is the infighting. It's this kind of internecene fighting (and, really, how many of us knew the word internecene meant before the Democratic primary last year?) that makes Dems look like losers. We need not just to be united, but also to shut up about each other. The position we are in right now means that anything that makes us weaker must be stopped. Frankly, that includes voting against measures that will keep Democratic voters from the polls. Tim Carptenter is in one of the safest districts in the state, and can afford to take a stand.

Speaking of which, there is some buzz that maybe Colón would mount a primary challenge to Carpenter. Again, I think that would be unbelievably stupid; Democrats cannot afford some kind of Grothman-Panzer mess in 2006. Besides, if anyone is going to replace Carpenter in the state senate, it should be Josh Zepnick, so then I can run for Josh's seat . . . (Just kidding, dear.)

Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not A Christian"

For Stacie, an old classic that I've dug up and posted, due to size restraints, at dKos.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday Random Ten

Rules here.

1. "Home" Patty Larkin from Red = Luck
2. "Blues for Two Big Ears" Willie Wisely from Raincan
3. "Perfect Blue Buildings" Counting Crows from August and Everything After
4. "I Yell at Traffic" Leo Kottke from Live
5. "Chickenman" Indigo Girls from 1200 Curfews
6. "Arelia" Don Conoscenti from Extremely Live at Eddie's Attic
7. "Ode to a Butterfly" Nickel Creek from Nickel Creek
8. "In the Waiting Line" Zero 7 from Garden State Soundtrack
9. "January Floor" John Gorka from After Yesterday
10. "Last of the Good Straight Girls" Susan Werner from Last of the Good Straight Girls

The whole cat shooting thing

This is it, people--this is the only weighing-in on the whole feral-cat-shooting thing I will ever, ever do.

Yes, feral cats can be a problem. But a "cat season" is not the solution. The solution is to make sure that more of the cats' natural preditory enemies are out there too: That's right, release the hounds!

Anyone who has seen cartoons knows that the dog is the natural enemy of the cat, so feral dogs will curb the feral cat population.

Once the feral cats are gone, we can release something to take care of all those extra feral dogs--I like panthers. No--tigers!

Then, to take care of the tiger population, we'll have to import tigers' natural enemies, Indian poachers. Of course, once the tigers are gone, we'll need to get rid of the Indians, so I'm thinking Kashmiri freedom fighters.

And the beauty of it is, the Kashmiris will probably all die off during the harsh Wisconsin winter, so by next spring, we'll just have to clean up the mess . . .

</snark>

Thursday, April 14, 2005

And so it goes

Pummell the daily paper, lose their weekly offshoot's blog contest. Congrats, though, to Jerilyn Dufresne.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

If I had a subscription, I would cancel it

In an editorial entitled "Time ripe for MPS reform," the daily's editors demonstrate once again why they are on the editorial board and not the school board. And, yes, I recognize how idiotic it may be of me to criticize one organ of the press juggernaut whose other organ may well give me an award (if you go vote for me) before the contest is over. Now, though, a full fisking:
The reformers now hold the balance of power, thanks to last week's election. The unionists took the reins in the election before that. And three elections ago, the reformers took control. This seesaw has played out for a long time.
I'm not going to deny their facts, here, just their characterizations. By "unionists," they mean board members concerned about ensuring that good teachers--remember, teachers are the most important factor in achievement--come to and stay in MPS. Danny Goldberg, like the other "reformers" on the board, wants nothing less than a dismantling of everything about the job that makes it attractive, from benefits to classroom climate. He has publicly kissed the ass of our superintendent, who has nothing but contempt for teachers. Believe me. I've been to his meetings. And I didn't even write in that post how, after the meeting, he "got up in my grill," as the kids would say, confronting me in the hallway yelling and--I am not making this up!--wagging his finger at me for daring to question his priorities. The paper considers him another "reformer," though.
But the Milwaukee Public Schools District is failing to meet the needs of too many children for coasting to remain good enough. Thus, last week's election warrants cheers; it gives the reform movement new energy.

No, the results were not as rosy as they should have been. Unfortunately, incumbents Peter Blewett, the board's president, and Charlene Hardin, the vice president, defeated reform-minded challengers Kevin Ronnie and Bernadine Bradford in contests on the west and north sides, respectively.
Yes, it really, really sucks that the people got to vote, huh? Maybe we should have just cancelled the election the way the "reformers" on the board want to cancel my health care--health care that means the raises I could have gotten over the last decade were also cancelled.

Look, I'm not going to deny that Milwaukee has problems. But should we solve our problems by putting kids into completely unaccountable settings that are not proven to even work? Or into charter schools that can close without warning, leaving kids high and dry? I keep saying it, and I keep meaning it: Our kids are not New Coke or Daewoo. Strong public schools can make every kid a winner; the market guarantees losers.
Goldberg boasts exceptional talents. Noticing while an assistant college professor that many high school dropouts were nonetheless smart, he dedicated himself to educational reform. He helped found the Technical Assistance and Leadership Center [TALC] to promote reform and, under that agency's auspices, was key in bringing to Milwaukee a multimillion-dollar grant from the Gates Foundation to set up small high schools. As local director of Homeboyz Interactive, he raised more than $1 million to give high-tech training to young people without ready access to computers. Also, he's president of the governance council of I.D.E.A.L., a charter school founded by MPS teachers.
Ahhhh, now I see what "reform" means: "Reform" is apparently what you call it when you support a superintendent who got you six million dollars. "Reform" is what you call it when you support a program that--while it may work for your kids--is worse for most kids. Would they call Goldberg a "reformer" if he came out explicitly in favor of putting students in schools without teachers, so the kids can watch DVDs and riot? Because, you know, that's what happens.
Goldberg survived, by the way, a disappointing smear campaign by Wisconsin Citizen Action, which twisted his support for the worthwhile private school choice program into support for "rampant corruption."
What are you talking about? Your very own newspaper has reported on rampant corruption, repeatedly. And while I bet my hypothetical above--Goldberg's support for riots--would never happen, if you support a system that allows for corruption, if you support sending the children that voters elected you to protect into that system, then, well, I don't know. It continues to boggle my mind how anyone can believe that he is effectively representing the people on the public school board when he wants to take children out of the public schools. Seriously. I'm boggled.
That a big-city school system can work remains an unproven proposition. But the reforms--greater accountability, site-based management, shoring up of neighborhood schools, for example--appeared to have led to a bit of progress. Last week's election keeps hope alive for more gains.
Okay. Take a deep breath for a second. Now, a question: Of the three reforms just named, how many have been actively opposed by the union? As long as the processes for each "reform" have been fair (and I can tell you about how the current superintendent has been smacked down even by a unanimous board, reformers and all, because he pulls things out of his butt that are neither fair nor all that smart), the union has not stood in the way of progress. Nor have the "unionists" on the board. The debates around those issues were contentious, yes, but the board, with the union in tow, has been moving steadily forward to ensure quality changes.

But let us not kid ourselves here at your humble folkbum's blog the way they are kidding themselves down at the editorial offices. The "reforms" Dannny Goldberg was elected to implement (if you can call a 220-vote victory a mandate) have nothing to do with accountability, neighborhood schools, or effective site management. If you believe that to be the case, then I know where you can get a bridge, cheap. Goldberg is a long-tome voucher advocate, elected with voucher money, by voucher supporters, and he makes the Journal Sentinel go all gooey because he wants to cut teachers' health benefits. Period.

You want to talk reform? I'm all for it. Just come on down to my classes of 37 and 42 and more some day, and, if we can hear over the noise, you can tell me how cutting my benefits and demeaning my union makes me a better teacher.

A Whole Nuther Fighting Bum

Here. It's about voting. And Republicans. And the elderly. Not to mention underage kids sneaking into dance clubs with fake IDs.

Oh, and, you know, the apostrophes were right when I sent it in . . . Ah, editors. :)

(Of course, the update should be that the state senate today passed the useless bill. Stupid senate.)

Last day to vote

Please do so if you haven't. That is all.

Bumped to stay at the top; new posts below.

Wisconsin Wednesday: Waning Wages

First, remember what I noted earlier this week: Inflation is outpacing real wage growth overall. Now, consider this:

The state senate today is expected to pass a bill that moved out of committee yesterday to roll back any cities' attempts to raise their own minimum wages. This is after the Republicans in the legislature refused to listen to a bi-partisan council's recommendation to increase the minimum wage state-wide. (The vote on that council was 16-2. The two dissenters were not any of the businesspeople on the council, but two Republican state lawmakers.)

What's worse, this bill would, through poor wording, also prohibit municipalities from requiring a "living wage" from their contractors. Right now, if you're on a job contracted through LaCrosse County, Dane County, Milwaukee, or any number of other places, you're guaranteed a $9 or so; this bill cuts you back to $5.15. This isn't just a dig at progressive cities--it's a decrease for hundreds, maybe thousands of workers statewide.

This is your Republican leadership at work, folks--sending us back to the 1800s . . .

Wisconsin Wednesday: Where's the Democracy?

Bill Christofferson has been on a tear lately at the Xoff Files (I wonder how long until he gets in trouble for "taking the Christ out of Christofferson"?). One that you all need to read is Monday's No Sunshine on the Budget. Even if you're one of them Republicans (and I imagine there are a couple of you among my five or six regular readers), this should disturb you (my bold, his italics):
Well, how many state budget decisions do you suppose got made over the weekend? No, the legislature wasn't in session, and the Joint Finance Committee wasn't meeting. But the first batch of budget decisions were quietly being made on conference calls between Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly and co-chairs of Joint Finance. It wouldn't be surprising if the call also included Finance member Scott Jensen and maybe a few more key players.

How do we know that? Because Assembly Co-Chair Dean Kaufert said so. This from the WisPolitics weekly report on Friday:

Kaufert expects conference calls between caucus leaders and JFC members over the weekend to start nailing down some of the issues. "I think by Monday some of those decisions between the Senate and Assembly are going to start falling into place. We've got to have both sides to dance, and until we are in agreement, neither house is going to go out there too far on any of these.''

Joint Finance has had no public debate by its members on any budget items yet, although it has held public hearings and had briefings by agencies.

Voting by Joint Finance is supposed to begin on Thursday. How, you might wonder, will the committee vote on the dozens, if not hundreds, of motions if members haven't discussed them? [. . .]

Is this legal? Technically, maybe [. . .]. But does it meet the intent of state open meetings laws? Of course not. It flunks the smell test and may even flunk the legal test if someone [. . .] were to apply it.
So, are we clear? John Gard (R Sun Prairie Peshtigo) and his indicted cronies get on the phone to each other and make their budget decisions completely in the dark. What are they afraid of? What are they hiding? Or are they just too drunk on their own power to consider that maybe, in a democracy (representative though we may be), the people have a right to know?

By the way, I fully expect (read: it will be a cold day in hell if) Frank Lasee to condemn this. Remember, his TABOR bill is all about stopping unconscionable legislators from making these kinds of decisions, especially in secret. Lasee wants most of these decisions moved to referrenda, in fact. So, Frank, what do you say? And my Republican readers?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

F. Jim Scares Me

Cross-posted from SensenbrennerWatch.com.

It's bad enough that F. Jim doesn't remember his civics lessons well enough to know that the third branch of government--the judiciary--is independent. Now, it turns out, he's actively trying to subjugate the courts to the Congress.

Max Blumenthal of The Nation wandered into that "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference some of the most extreme elements of the Republican party held last weekend. This is the one, you may remember, at which conservative activist Edwin Vieira said that Stalin--you remember Stalin? Brutal killer? Bad goatee?--"offered the best method for reining in the Supreme Court. 'He had a slogan,' Vieira said, 'and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty: "No man, no problem." ' " (The complete Stalin quote is, "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem.")

The Sensenbrenner part comes on page two of Blumenthal's article. You've heard about the threats against the physical well-being of judges; what's working under the surface is an attempt to strip judges of their Constitutional authority:
The threatening tenor of the conference speakers was a calculated tactic. As Gary Cass, the director of Rev. D. James Kennedy's lobbying front, the Center for Reclaiming America, explained, they are arousing the anger of their base in order to harness it politically. The rising tide of threats against judges "is understandable," Cass told me, "but we have to take the opportunity to channel that into a constitutional solution."

Cass's "solution" is the "Constitution Restoration Act," a bill relentlessly promoted during the conference that authorizes Congress to impeach judges who fail to abide by "the standard of good behavior" required by the Constitution. If they refuse to acknowledge "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government," or rely in any way on international law in their rulings, judges also invite impeachment. In essence, the bill would turn judges' gavels into mere instruments of "The Hammer," Tom DeLay, and Christian-right cadres. [. . .]

In the Senate the bill was sponsored by Richard Shelby, a senator from Roy Moore's home state; among the co-sponsors is Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who is contemplating a run for the Republican nomination for President. The bill was introduced on March 3, before the Terri Schiavo affair erupted, before Florida Circuit Judge George Greer ordered the removal of her feeding tube and before he became the poster-child for the right's judicial impeachment campaign.

Now, according to Howard Phillips in a speech to the conference, his "good friend" Wisconsin GOP Representative James Sensenbrenner is planning to hold hearings on the Constitution Restoration Act in the House. DeLay, who appeared on a big screen during a Thursday morning session to call for the removal of "a judiciary run amok," has put his name on the act as the House sponsor.
Howard Phillips, you may remember, is the founding father of the Constitution Party, which invites you to join them as they "work to restore our government [. . .] to its Biblical foundation." (Does this mean his "good friend" F. Jim will be introducing legislation to stone adulterers? Come to think if it, this does explain F. Jim's desire to over-regulate the entertainment industry.)

The "Constitution Restoration Act" is to the Constitution what the "Clear Skies Initiative" is to air and the "Healthy Forest Initiative" is to trees (read more about it here). Call F. Jim right now and ask him why he thinks our Constitution isn't worth protecting: (262) 784-1111 (district office); 1-800-242-1119 (the HOTLINE for those outside of the Milwaukee metro area); (202) 225-5101 (DC office).

Vote Deadline Approaching

Don't forget: I would really appreciate your votes in this week's blog of the week contest.

Duh

Alan Borsuk has a kind of "no duh" write-up of what the addition of Danny Goldberg means to the Milwaukee Public Schools board--things readers of this blog learned last week. My favorite line:

Goldberg, on the other hand, said in a post-election interview, "I'm much more interested in supporting him (Andrekopoulos) than criticizing him." He added, "I believe in the reforms Mr. Andrekopoulos is seeking to carry out."

Of course you do, especially when those reforms mean MORE MONEY for the organization that you founded. Grrrrr.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Prosperity is just . . . around here somewhere

So I went to a tax-freeze talk last night. More about that later this week when I have time to write it up well.

But, briefly, one thing the speaker (Andrew Reschovsky from the LaFollette school) pointed out is that tying state spending to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is kind of stupid (my words, not his), since what consumers buy has very little to do with what governments buy. Both J-Dizzle's tax freeze and the Lasee-Wood TABOR use the CPI, a measure of inflation, as a marker.

Today comes word that, for the first time since the previous Bush administration, the CPI has outpaced real wage growth. This should not come as much of a surprise to those of you tracking the meteoric rise of gas prices, milk prices, basic cable subscription fees, and electricity rates. It's even less surprising to those of you paying the jacked-up prices on last year's salary.

We have known for some time job growth has been anemic, and real wage growth has stayed flat or fallen. But it has taken this long for inflation to catch up, at least in part because Alan Greenspan has kept interest rates so low.

Well, now interest rates are rising. While the rates were low, people got their adjustable rate mortgages. That mortgage debt--not to mention credit debt--has kept purchasing going strong. At some point, those ARMs are going to come due, the housing prices are going to collapse (your high Wisconsin property taxes are due, at least in part, to the housing bubble), and then we're all screwed.

Sorry to be a downer, but it's hard to be very happy about this kind of news.

The Banner Stays

So everybody probably has heard by now that Russ Feingold and his wife of 14 years, Mary, are getting divorced. (I'm deciding not to blame that temptress Stacie for breaking them up.)

Some people are already speculating that this dooms any potential 2008 presidential bid (really--I won't link to them, because you don't need to see that). But, here's the thing: If a divorce didn't stop God's Own Annointed One, St. Ronald, then it won't stop Russ. Who else do we have? Seriously? Until a better candidate comes along--or until Russ personally emails me (my email <- there you go, Senator!) and assures me that he's not running--I will proudly display my "Feingold 2008" banner.

Run, Russ, run.

Don't forget to vote!

I'm probably going to be a while with something new later this afternoon--like all about the exciting tax freeze forum I attended last night--but not now.

Don't, however, forget to vote for me over at MKE's blog of the week contest if you haven't yet. I mean, if you don't, some other blog could win, and that would be, just, wrong.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Advocate Weekly, Part III

This time, shari does the heavy lifting. It's all good stuff.

Voucher/ Charter/ Small Schools updates

In the past couple of weeks, I've been hitting the education issues pretty heavy. To remind you:
• I've talked about the systemic problems of Wisconsin's voucher program
• I strongly advocated against electing a school board member who has gotten rich off of Bill Gates's small school money
• I went off pretty good when he won anyway
• I noted the financial problems of a local institution that runs charter and voucher schools, as well as how they shut down the paid-for schools while keeping the voucher school open until the last state checks come
• I posted an insider's view on why you can't say charter schools have a level playing field
Today, I want to follow up on a few of those stories, and point you to some additional resources and good reads.

First, shari at "An old soul . . ." links to an article providing a somber, if a little over-the-top, warning about Gates and what his motives might be:
Gates has spent almost a billion dollars influencing American public schools, and while his donations seem laudable on some fronts, especially in an era of increased federal demands coupled with reduced federal spending, his philanthropy remains problematic. When corporate leaders shape government institutions according to their needs, we move away from democracy and toward corporatism [. . .].

While I agree with Gates that there is indeed a crisis in our schools, it should not be confused with any perceived crisis over achievement. Schools in wealthy neighborhoods consistently score first in international comparisons in a number of subjects, and when SAT scores are desegregated according to race, all subgroups have seen consistent point gains over the past 30 years. The real crisis in our schools reflects the most serious crisis in our democracy: diverse peoples with multiple voices and needs have little say in the major decisions shaping their lives. [. . .]

Corporatism [. . .] requires citizen obedience to corporate demands; individual needs are ignored. In the case of public schools, CEOs have great influence on the curriculum whereas parents have none. Individual students become products whose manufacture is subject to the whims of the market. [. . .]

When Gates told his audience that "in the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind," he failed to mention two salient facts. First, it does not matter how many "knowledge workers" our schools produce if corporations continue to offshore IT jobs, which are growing at a rate of less than 3% a year. Second, and more importantly, we are not all "knowledge workers" nor should we be. In a democracy, individual differences and nuances should be respected and valued, not standardized. Teacher innovation, family desire, and community need should influence public education. The corporatist mentality is a one-size-fits-all mindset, a mindset more totalitarian than anything else. Parents who want their children to grow up to be more than blindly obedient worksheet completers must challenge CEO classroom encroachment. Citizens who value democracy must join them.
Next, more on vouchers, but this time in our nation's capital. It seems that the voucher program all those wealthy, white, Republican congressmen foisted on poor, black Democratic DC is not wroking as planned. Sure, it's early, but a Department of Education report on the first year noted shows "a failure to achieve legislatively determined priorities, an inability to evaluate the program in the manner required by Congress, and efforts by administrators to obscure information that might reflect poorly on the program." People for the American Way noted from the DOE documents that only about 4% of the students in the program, despite clear language in the law requiring priority for them, were from schools deemed "in need of improvement." The 96% included hundreds of students alread in private schools. This might be the worst: "The program allows private schools to impose their normal admissions tests and thus pick and choose which students to accept. In addition, private schools participating in the voucher program that charge tuition higher than the voucher amount of $7,500 are permitted to charge the additional amount to voucher students, limiting the availability of meaningful “choice” for low-income families. Both these facts were obscured in a 'Frequently Asked Questions' document prepared by" the administrators. There's more here.

Finally, charter schools. Conservative blogger (look at his sidebar) Mark Lerner points to a new book critical of charter schools, and backs that claim up with his own experience teaching at one. In language that echoes some of what Patrick, my charter school insider (see the link above) used, the book notes how charter schools are not always exemplars. The Boston Globe
article that Lerner links has even more. Try this (my emphasis):
Not only did [the authors] find that charter schools do not generate higher student achievement in general or the educational performance of central city, low-income minority children in particular, they also found that charter schools are associated with increased school segregation. And they found minimal accountability. Despite their inability to show across-the-board improvement, fewer than 1 percent of charter schools have been shut down for academic failure. [. . .]

[M]any charter schools rely on less-experienced, uncertified, and often less-well-paid teachers. In a regular central city school, 75 percent of the teachers have more than five years' experience. In a charter school the percentage is only 34 percent. In public high schools, 70 percent of the math teachers either majored or minored in math in college. In a charter high school, the percentage is 56 percent. ''While freedom from certification rules undoubtedly permit charter schools to hire teachers who are more qualified than typical teachers in regular public schools, the data do not reveal evidence that charter schools, on average, are actually using their freedom to do so," the authors wrote.

Mishel and Carnoy both said that whatever systemic problems the charter school movement is trying to address, they may be far outside the realm of either public or charter school.
Some of these links came through the Education Wonk's Carnival of Education. There is chaff among the wheat there, but all dealing with educational issues.

Bloggers Market

Which, despite its name, is not actually a place to buy or sell bloggers. (That only seems to happen in South Dakota.) It's one of the many projects that former folkbum's rambles and rants guestblogger Jeff Davidson is up to these days. And you can find it here.

Somebody should get fired

And it's this guy:
A top state Department of Transportation official has come under fire for telling hundreds of employees that women often aren't promoted in his division because of family duties.

Kevin Chesnik, administrator of transportation infrastructure development, made the comment last week at a conference before at least 200 employees he oversees, according to workers who were there. [. . .]

More than 230 DOT employees have been notified that they are at risk of being laid off as part of the reorganization, causing heightened tension throughout the department.

At the meeting March 31 at a Madison hotel, an employee asked Chesnik why more women were not promoted. Chesnik responded that it was hard to find women for high-level jobs because of their roles as mothers, according to four people who attended the meeting.

"He proceeded to say that women need to--how did he put it?--re-evaluate their priorities because they have children," one of the employees said. "It sounded like something you would say in the '60s."

Another said: "Basically, he said the women he's approached feel they're busy home raising their families, and so they typically don't go for these types of positions." [. . .]

In an e-mail he sent to his staff Monday, Chesnik said his comments "were not appropriate and potentially offensive to some people in the audience." But the e-mail did not include an apology, which upset some employees.

"I thought it was in there, actually," he said Thursday. "Because that was the intent. I recognized that, and I wanted to say I'm sorry, and I guess it should have been written in there."
What is this, 1950? Puh-lease! At least he figured out quickly that he'd better start investigating himself--no, wait, he's not. He is, to be fair, though, looking at whether there has been discrimination.

Still, that kind of attitude has no place in someone in a position of authority, someone who influences the promotions, hiring, and firing procedures at DOT. Time for Chesnik to move on.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

You people don't tell me anything

Via Peter David, I see that Will Eisner, legend and inspiration of mine back when I was a wee lad lad thinking about a career in comic books--passed away earlier this year.

Yes, I'm a news junkie. But this one slipped past me. I expect you guys to keep me up to date about this sort of thing.

Really. I'm quite jealous of all the Major Bloggers who have to complain about all the unsolicted email they get about news they haven't covered yet. Me, all I get is email offering me c!@1!$ or whatever ‘f�l�l�È’²‹³“¯�D‰ï‚©‚ç‚Ì‚¨’m‚点�B  translates to.

Tomorrow I will have real blogging. Education and stuff. Promise.

Scary F. Jim

We all know that Tom "La Cucaracha" DeLay has wandered away from the tour group when it comes to judges. But a Wisconsin Congressman is just as bad. See my latest at SensenbrennerWatch about F. Jim's ignorance of the Constitution.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Got Beer Tax?

It seems suicidal, but a Wisconsin state representative has proposed a 2¢ per six-pack beer tax. Before I get any further, let me fully disclose here: I don't drink. Not beer, not wine, not even those electric-blue margatinis at certain national-chain tex-mex restaurants. So if the tax goes up on your beer, my teetotaling self won't be bothered by it.

Two things struck me, though, reading about this proposal: First, it's just 2¢. How much are you drinking if you find 2¢ per six pack a financial burden? My wife, who knows these sorts of things, assures me that there plenty of people who drink three six packs a day. Even at that, it's only an extra $21 a year. Of course, if you're drinking 18 beers a day, you may not have a day job, and that extra little bit may actually hurt. But clearly, if you're in that condition, you're probably the kind of person that the tax is meant to help.

Which leads me to the next point: "Raising the beer tax would raise $4.7 million a year more to pay for alcohol-abuse treatment," the article notes, "treatment needed by almost 600,000 Wisconsin residents in 2001, according to the University of Wisconsin Law School's Resource Center on Impaired Driving." While I do like the idea of helping people who need help, it disturbs me a little that we drink the equivalent of 235,000,000 six packs a year.

That's not all in cans, of course; opponents of the proposed tax point out, helpfully, that the tax would hurt breweries and families at fish fries.

While I'm not big on raising taxes--I think Wisconsin's budget troubles can be solved in other ways--it's hard to see this as a bad thing. Wisconsin's beer tax hasn't been raised in 25 years, and, if it had been indexed to inflation, it wouldn't be the 6¢ per gallon it is now, but $10. And if some of those three six-pack-a-dayers could get some help, well, then I think I can get behind this one.

Friday Random Ten

Rules here.

1. "Martyr's Lounge" Ellis Paul from Sweet Mistakes
2. "Fall on Me" Cry Cry Cry (Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell) from Cry Cry Cry
3. "Always" The Story (Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball) from Grace in Gravity
4. "City Love" John Mayer from Room for Squares
5. "Protect Me" James from Seven
6. "Zachary" Sonia Dada from E-Town Live 2
7. "My Maria" Marton Sexton from The American
8. "So Says the Whipporwill" Richard Shindell from Vuelta
9. "A Bend in the River" Mark Erelli from Hillbilly Pilgrim
10. "What's He Building" Tom Waits from Mule Variations

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Welcome, MKE online voters!

I thought I'd throw you a higlight reel from the last month or so of posting, so you get a better sense of what's what around here, beofre you go back and vote:
• This is me being angry: What Hagen's Loss Means
• This is me being glib--and lazy, since it's all links: Russ Goes South, Again
• This is me being pedantic, but making a serious point about TABOR: Ixnay on the ABOR-Tay
• This is a sample of some of my lyrics--the guitars aren't just for decoration around here: Boondocking at Wal-Mart
• This is me electioneering: Fisking Underheim
• This is me talking about TABOR again (I just won't let it go): Who Else is Anti-TABOR
• This is an education rant: That Time of Year
• This is me getting philosophical: Victimhood as a Way of Life
And, long-time readers, remind me of your favorite posts in the comments, eh?

If he starts reaching for his marbles, don't stop him

Scott Walker is giving up on his unconstitutional bond plan after voters pretty solidly shot him down Tuesday. Apparently, opposition was "spread evenly around the county"--so not just us librul city folk shot him down.

Walker is now practicing his buck-passing; he signed off on the wording himself, but then "contended that wording in the question misled voters" at his news conference. He's already in the blaming others stage; I'm hoping he gets to the storming off in a huff phase soon.

The Xoff files has more.

Yeah, I Know We Just Had an Election

But you must now vote again. I'm up for blog of the week at MKE's online presence. I've voted in both of the other weeks' contests and have gotten no spam, so I feel confident in recommending that you go there and vote for me.

In addition, mAd PrOpz congrats to my buddy and near-neighbor Scott for winning week two's contest. Way! To! Go!

(Oh, and you can vote if you're not from Milwaukee, even; at least one of the blogs is based up nort' somewhere. I bet even my out-of-state fans--both of you!--can vote, as well.)

So, go, vote--it's the "folkbum's rambles and rants" radio button. Thanks!