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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Something else for our inferiority complex

The Big Headline this morning:
City drops out of top 20

For the first time since before the Civil War, Milwaukee is not among the 20 largest cities in the United States, according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. [. . .]

According to the annual figures, which estimate population each July, Milwaukee's population in 2004 was 583,624, down nearly 3,600 residents from the same time in 2003.
I, for one, am not telling where I buried my share of the bodies.

But seriously: A bunch of people will probably associate the decline in the city--and in the metro area, generally ("Milwaukee's metro population growth in recent years has sat near the bottom of the country's 43 largest metropolitan areas," the article says) with the topic covered in another article from the paper this morning:
[Peter] Fisher, who earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analyzes five indexes. Of the four that included Wisconsin in their ratings, the Badger state ranked anywhere from 13th to 41st, with 50th being worst. Fisher challenges the methodology used in the indexes and contends they're poor gauges of a state's economic potential.
Last summer I spent a lot of time talking about this issue, and even some last winter. (I'm lazy and summer school starts tomorrow--yes, on a Friday; they don't ask me about these things--do your own archive search.) I've dropped it recently, since jeebus knows that the legislature has given me plenty of other stuff to write about. But it is worth noting, again, what Fisher says in this article, that any kind of national rankings of Wisconsin, our tax rates, our business climate, and whatnot is probably not terribly reliable. Consider, for example that seven states don't have income tax. Or that California's auto registration fee is four times Wisconsin's. It's really difficult to make a fair, easy comparison.

But in reality, our plummet out of the top 20 has much more to do with the growth of the South and the Southwest than any kind of "tax hell" mumbo jumbo promulgated by hardcore "stop me before I spend again!" wingnuts in the state: " 'The pattern of historical migration is one of people moving from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt, said William Gayk, director of the Center for Demographic Research in Fullerton, Calif." Still, I predict at least three letters to the editor in the next week blaming the taxes.

And, of course, everyone is thinking heavily about taxes and spending, what with there only being a couple of hours left in the fiscal biennium and our not having a budget. Fortunately for me, I will be awake at 6:15 tomorrow morning, so I can keep an eye on the legislature, since that's when they tend to do all the important stuff. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Read This

Bill Christopherson is on the ball again. If this doesn't make you want to bang your head on the table, repeatedly, then I don't know what will.

By the way, the Next Door Foundation (if you'd read Bill's post like I told you to, you'd know) has a lot of people on its board of directors who contributed to members of the Joint Finance Committee, like Lazich and Jensen. I'm not making any accusations here; I'm just reporting what the WDC tells me. And I bet a more enterprising Googlemonkey could come up with more dirt somewhere . . .

Milwaukee Election Fraud/ Reform

I'm still trying to catch up on what I missed from last week. I guess Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's commission finished its work on how to reform Milwaukee's election process to avoid the mess that came to light in November--and probably existed long before that, just without scrutiny.

The recommemdations are really quite simple, and mirror what I have been saying all along, that Milwaukee's problems stem not from concerted efforts at fraud but from understaffing and undertraining. Since yesterday I took the paper's editorial board to task, I have to give them credit for being right today (emphasis in the original):
Wisconsin Republicans have been harping on what is really a side issue, largely not germane to the electoral breakdown that took place in Milwaukee and around Wisconsin last November: a proposal to require that every time you vote, you show a Wisconsin driver's license or a state or military ID card.

That photo ID mandate would not have stopped the fraud that unscrupulous registrars perpetrated when they handed in names of people they falsely claimed had registered to vote. A task force recommendation would curb such fraud, however: Outlaw the practice of paying registrars for each new name.

A photo ID mandate would not have stopped the 200 felons from voting who allegedly shouldn't have last November. After all, the felons gave their real names. A driver's license doesn't indicate whether a person is a felon. A task force recommendation would discourage felons from casting ballots, however: Inform voters prominently on registration cards and in address-verification cards mailed to new voters that felons still on probation or parole are prohibited from voting. Better yet is Gov. Jim Doyle's proposal that voters check a box indicating they have read such a notice - which, in turn, would give prosecutors a hook for bringing charges should felons vote anyway.

A photo ID mandate would have stopped one case of alleged fraud, as reported in a criminal complaint filed last week. The voter gave different addresses in allegedly registering and voting twice, the first time using a driver's license, the second time a Social Security card. But enforcement of existing rules would have also stemmed any fraud. A Social Security card is not supposed to be accepted as a proof of residence.

A photo ID mandate would not have stopped the vast bulk of the rampant miscues and errors last November because they did not stem from identification fraud. But the recommendations of the task force would accomplish that task, because they zero in on the actual causes of what went wrong.
There were, according to a non-partisan investigation, 100 or so instances of same-day registrants who were gaming the system in some way, including the Social-Security card user cited above. Actual enforcement of the law would have stopped most of them, I am willing to bet, and anyone who took the trouble to dig up identification to register falsely and vote could have faked an ID, as well. The investigation didn't look at the other 200,000 or so votes for fraud, but even if fraud existed among those votes (at the same rate, that may have been a whopping 300 instances), better organization at City Hall would have caught the phony registrations.

So let J-Dizzle veto the voter ID bill again, so that we don't inconvenience the other 3,000,000 or so voters around the state, and let Milwaukee fix its own house. If, after the additional measures and intense scrutiny in November 2006 show that there is still room for fraud or abuse, then we can talk about moving Wisconsin's voting laws to a par with the lowest-turnout states in the nation.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Hunting of the Liberals

A couple months back, I was excoriated by über-neo-conserva-monster David Horowitz for an aside I wrote in this post: "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 wrote that because Horowitz maintains a database of dangerous people, including many prominent academics alongside Osama bin Laden and Dennis Kucinich. Plus, Horowitz is the figurehead of CampusWatch, which empowers conservative college students to dialog with any professors they don't agree with using such time-honored conflict-resolution techniques as red stars.

Perhaps the idea of putting people in camps was slight hyperbole. Perhaps, though, if you follow what David Neiwert is talking about, you can see how it is not such a far-fetched possibility. Go and read that please, and then come back.

I mean, really, can someone please explain to me how the kind of rhetoric that you regularly hear from Savage and Coulter and Limbaugh and now Rove doesn't even merit an eyelash-blink? And worse, how is that the media is willing to equate this kind of "round up the libruls" lies and distortions with less inflammatory and esentially true words. Take the local rag (please!):
Among the more notable headline-grabbers, Democratic Party leader Howard Dean called Republicans "pretty much a white, Christian party" and said "they all behave the same, and they all look the same." Vice President Dick Cheney's comeback? "Maybe (Dean's) mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does."

That's a low blow, even on the playground. Good thing Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin evened the score in the Senate, comparing conditions at the Guantanamo prison camp to Soviet gulags, Nazi Germany and Pol Pot's Cambodian regime.

At least he smartly apologized. Not enough politicians do.

This week's big zinger came from White House adviser Karl Rove, who thought it smart to say liberals would "offer therapy and understanding" to the 9-11 hijackers rather than go to war. The Democrats could have turned the other cheek, but instead they clamored in vain for Rove's resignation.
It's hard to know where to start here: First, this same paper bent over backwards to tell us that Bush was re-elected on the efforts of Christians and similar "values voters." So Dean was wrong . . . how?

Second, Durbin's description of the "American Gulag" is accurate and disturbing: Conservatives can continue to defend U.S. policy at Gitmo and elsewhere, but they have to go through all sorts of contortions to explain how holding people without charges, attorneys, access to courts and so forth for three or more years is reasonable. Durbin's apology was a cop-out, especially after conservatives and the media inaccurately accused him of calling U.S. soldiers Nazis.

Third, Cheney's and Rove's remarks were not even remotely like Durbin's and Dean's. Cheney went after Howard Dean's mother, for crying out loud. Although, I guess that's not as bad as his dropping the f-bomb on the Senate floor. And Rove set out to paint all liberals--your humble folkbum included--as being soft on terrorists. Everyone else has already pointed out the factual errors in Rove's speech (and Hunter today noted that perhaps it's Bush who's soft on terror), so I will instead take issue with the editorial's assertion that Democrats should have "turned the other cheek." To that, I have to drop a big old Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: When the second most powerful man in Washington (next to Dick Cheney, of course) paints roughly half of the U.S. population with an innacurate and inflamatory brush, the only reasonable response is to ask for his resignation. My frigging tax dollars are paying this man's salary, and I refuse to allow such modern-day red-baiting on my dime.

At any rate, when they do start rounding us up, all I ask is that I be given a nice low number. I don't do pain well, and if they're going to tattoo it onto me, I'd like it to be short.

Bryan Kennedy Needs Your Help

Many of you read the last post below from guest-poster ColdFusion04 about F. Jim Sensenbrenner. F. Jim has raised the ire of a lot of Democrats, liberals, moderates, even some Republicans of late, and a consensus is growing that it's time to give him the boot.

That's why it's important that you take a few seconds and drop by Bryan Kennedy's website to learn a little bit about the left's best chance to take F. Jim out next November. And remember that June 30 is an FEC filing deadline; Bryan's trying to raise $100,000 by then to make a statement that the Democrats are ready to make F. Jim history. So go and contribute as much as you can, even if it's only $10.

Don't forget to add .01 to let Bryan know that the blogosphere is behind him!

Monday, June 27, 2005

I Am Home

And flushing toilet paper with abandon.

I will post tomorrow, trying to catch up on some of the stuff that went down while I was gone . . .

At any rate, let's have another big round of applause for ColdFusion04 and Jeremy Young, who kept the blog rolling with timely and timeless posts. Take a bow, guys.

An intelligent design supporter says ID isn't science

Finding myself utterly unable to compete with Cold Fusion's utterly brilliant piece of original reporting below, I've decided to make my final post here at Folkbum about the debate over teaching creationism in the schools.

Uber-conservative columnist Morton Kondracke, who apparently is a Democrat despite thinking the Republican Party is "not conservative enough," recently penned this editorial (registration required, or use Bugmenot) eviscerating the Creationism-in-schools argument:

"Intelligent Design" (ID), the religious alternative to Darwinism, ought to be taught in schools — Sunday schools and high-school social studies or history classes.

But in biology classes? No way. ... ID isn't science. Its concepts can't be independently verified. In essence, ID holds that living organisms are so complex that they couldn't be the product of blind natural forces, but had to be the work of a Designer — or, at least, a designer.

The scientific problem is this: There is no way to locate actual evidence of a designer, be it small "d" or big "D." Proponents of ID, including some sophisticated scientists, point to holes in Darwinian explanations for the development of life and say that only "intelligent design" can fill the gap. But that's not proof of design.


It's true that, as John West points out, the article is riddled with factual errors that make the ID people seem much more intelligent than they really are. But I'll take what I can get, particularly since Kondracke himself is an ID supporter, as he explains later in the article:

Personally, I think that high-school students ... ought to be taught that no one knows for sure what caused life to originate on Earth or what caused the creation of the universe. I favor the religious view of this, but there's a secular view that students should know about too.

But as to the "how" of biology — the science — schools should teach the best evidence available, which is evolutionary theory.


In reality, the evidence against intelligent design is an insurmountable vastitude. Eloquent evolution scientist Stephen Jay Gould famously declared in 1999 that "The hard bony evidence for human evolution...surely exceeds our reliable documentation of Caesar's life." In 1986, seventy-two Nobel laureates -- including DNA discoverers Watson and Crick, H-bomb progenitor Hans Bethe, and two-time laureate Linus Pauling -- signed an amicus brief that stated, in part, "The evolutionary history of organisms has been as extensively tested and as thoroughly corroborated as any biological concept." Geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky argued in 1973 that "evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry."

As evidence that evolutionists are slowly winning the battle over creationism, Kondracke notes that ID advocates have launched "a retreat from old-line creationism", no longer arguing that the world was created in 4004 B.C., for instance. However, he cites the disturbing statistic, collected just last year, that only 13 percent of Americans believe in non-divinely-assisted Darwinian evolution.

And so the debate continues between those who choose to view the world for what it is and those who discount facts as fictions. But if Kondracke's column is any indication, it is possible that those of us in the reality-based community (to borrow from the great DHinMI) are inching closer to a victory on this particularly vexing issue.

Thanks so much to Jay for the opportunity to post my inferior rants over here for a week. If for any reason you find yourself wanting more, you can get your fix over at my Kos diary or at Schweitzer for President. Folks, it's been a pleasure.

Sensenbrenner to Contituents: No Apology Necessary

Tonight I hauled all the way over the remote outskirts of Congressman Sensenbrenner's district (Pewaukee, WI) for a Q & A session. It took me 50 minutes to get there through a construction zone on a Sunday night. And, not surprisingly, there were only 15 people there due to the time and location.

But it was all worth it, because I got to yell, "POINT OF ORDER!" during a lively debate on Gavel-Gate. (Audio below)

Sensenbrenner was unapologetic for his Patriot Act hearing premature gaveling. In fact, he was snippety for almost the entire evening.

I was positioned mid room, with an elderly couple in front of me who prefaced the evening by speaking "privately" with the Congressman about their rental properties, and how "That Senate scares me!" and, "Can't the President just appoint those people while the Senate's on recess?" To which Sensenbrenner responded with all of the legal details of doing such a thing, and they seemed quite pleased. Until later in the evening... You'll hear their reaction in the audio clips.

Of course, the issue of the Patriot Act hearing gaveling came up, and one of his constituents, who also happens to be Associate Directory of the ACLU in Wisconsin, brought up how disappointed she was in his actions. He said, "You only saw the very end of the hearing." TO which I and many others shouted out, "We saw the whole two hours [Unspoken: ...you asshole]!" He said the witnesses were "off-topic", blah blah blah... And then it got pretty ugly.

When it got ugly, I realized I had my PDA (it contained the driving directions) in my pocket so I reached in and hit record. Clip 1 begins mid-yelling match between Sensenbrenner and a constituent who is pushing the issue of "Gavel-Gate". Another constituent has interrupted and Sensenbrenner is not happy... Not at all.

Clip 1 (449K .wav file):

Constituent: Calm down... That's all I'm saying... Now look, you're ready to jump out of your chair at me!

Sensenbrenner: I DIDN'T RECOGNIZE YOU! [His face was beet red here - veins bulging] Ms Crawford has the floor, now one at a time!

Constituent: All I'm saying is that you were hot-headed. And you were beyond the composure that I would expect from my Congressman, whether or not you feel the rules are out of order or not. I would ask for an apology for having been represented in that manner [85-year old wingnut in front of me can be heard: "OH, Come on..."].

Sensenbrenner: I don't think an apology is necessary for enforcing the rules maam. You know I don't apologize for enforcing the rules. The witnesses...

Constituent: I'm not asking you to apologize for enforcing the rules...

[Inspired by the heated exchange, I am emboldened to pull the recording device out to my lap. Quality of recording is much better below.]

Clip 2 (910K .wav file:

Sensenbrenner: [The Agenda] was chosen by Democrats and Mr. Conyers. And again, if that went on in any courtroom, you know, where irrelevant testimony that did not relate to the issue that was before the court, the court would have had to abstain, ah, sustain an objection. I didn't do that, I let em' talk!

Constituent: I'm not asking for an apology for that, I'm asking for an apology for your behavior. For your huffing, your puffing, [85 year old wingnut in front of me can be heard: "OH, Come on..."] your interrupting them, and your screaming and shouting. I'm not yelling at you, but you're yelling at me. So now I ask you personally for an apology because you're yelling at me.

Sensenbrenner [Interrupting]: The hearing was over with, and that's why the hearing was adjourned [Wingnut: Yeah, yeah, Pfff]. Everybody who was there was able to have, after five minutes to be recognized to say what they wanted to say. The witnesses spoke for five minutes, they were able to answer questions that were offered to them by members of the committee, and the fact is that..

Constituent: They actually weren't able to answer all the questions...

Sensenbrenner [Interrupting]: Well, because the time ran out, and you know the thing is...

[Much Laughter throughout the room.]

Me [Laughing]: Point of Order!

[Forget publishing a book and everything, this was the highlight of my year hands down. Sensenbrenner glares in my direction.]

Sensenbrenner: The thing is, when you ask a question that's 4 minutes and 55 seconds long...

Constituent: It's common courtesy to allow somebody to expound on a question...

Sensenbrenner: No it isn't, because, and...

Constituent: And you have the power...

[I shut down due to funny looks]

There were some other good exchanges - For example, Sensenbrenner cut off a gentleman who pointed out that he accepted the highest amount of lobbying money in the entire Congress, to which he said, "Ever read the First Amendment?!? Lobbying is Free Speech!" Then he wouldn't let the guy ask any more questions, stating that he had accused him of "accepting bribes".

In summary, I now realize that this guy is a classic nutjob, and really quite scary in an unstable sort of way. He was even more unaccepting of criticism than even I had grown to believe.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Things I will not miss about Mexico

1. la tourista
2. Spanish-language keyboards
3. sunburn (okay, I get this at home sometimes)
4. paying for the internet by the minute (though it is cheap)
5. watching the exchange rate fall over the course of the week and wondering what the hell Bush did now
6. guys who shout "¡Hey, Amigos!" every time you pass because they think you simply must want to rent a golf cart
7. the killer bees
8. the hard beds
9. not being allowed to flush the toilet paper
10. did I mention la tourista?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

My love affair with Ray Charles

"I Had It All" by Ray Charles

He was just an ole honky-tonk singer
Perched on a stool at the end of the room,
And over his head a lightbulb was swinging,
Keepin' rhythm to each other's tunes.
He sang stories of bygone glories
And how Lady Luck could change;
I was content just to hear his lament,
And this isn't all that he said.

"I had it all" -- he said that -- "I had it all;
I've been a rich man to a poor man, black suits to leather, jailhouse to the Taj Mahal;
I had it all, -- I had it all;
Dodge vans to limos, lounge acts in Reno, even down in ole Carnegie Hall."

Yes, it seems he was raised to a reasonable age
By loving Mom and Dad,
And he soon decided that he'd hit the stage
And give up everything he had.
Well, he got a shot, and he went straight to the top --
Man, you know, he just couldn't lose;
But whiskey and smoke cut off all the high notes --
Now he can only sing the blues.

"I had it all" -- you oughta hear him -- "I had it all;
A rich man to a poor man, black suits to leather, jailhouse to the Taj Mahal;"
He said, "I had it all, -- I had it all;
Dodge vans to limos, lounge acts in Reno, even down in ole Carnegie Hall."

One more thing:
Well, of course there was a woman
He loved all the way,
But he hit rock bottom, and she soon forgot him;
Now all that he can say
Is, "I had it all" -- just like me -- "I had it all;
I've been a rich man to a poor man, black suits to leather, jailhouse to the Taj Mahal;"
"I had it all -- Oh, I had it all" -- I did;
"Dodge vans to limos, lounge acts in Reno, even in old Carnegie Hall. ..."


One of the things that I share with Jay is our twin loves of politics and music. I tend to be more interested in classical and Broadway genres; but when I saw a CD of Ray Charles' greatest hits for a dollar at a booksale, I decided it was time to broaden my horizons. What I discovered was a poet of deep perception whose words and music deftly captured the feeling of alienation and aloneness that characterize many Americans today and, indeed, have done so for most of the twentieth century.

Ray Charles was more alienated than most of us. For starters, he was blind. Also, for many years he was a heroin addict. When he sang about "whiskey and smoke...just like me," he wasn't kidding. Yet somehow he knew what touched the human spirit most deeply, and infused his songs with its inimitable quality. Unlike most of our coddled leaders, Charles had experienced the real hard life. And it made him succulently sour, though capable of incredible sweetness.

The reason we as a nation loved Ray Charles (who died last year) was that we felt he really understood us. He gave us the great gift of empathy. And (since I promised Jay I'd do a post connecting Ray Charles to politics), it's a message that should be adopted by the Democratic Party if it ever wants to win elections again. Two examples will suffice: Bill Clinton (of whom I am not a fan), who nevertheless managed to make Americans feel he was one of them; and (of course) Brian Schweitzer, whose folksy ways and commonsense pragmatism are endearing to the many who are sick and tired of elitist politicians. Yes, I said elitist politicians, and activists, too. Drink that one in slowly, so it burns your throat as it goes down. You'll feel better.

We need to stop acting like we're better than the average Joe, because, in all honesty, the average Joe isn't all that bad a guy. He's much more intelligent, hardworking, good, honest, caring, and much less lucky than many of us realize. Ray Charles understood that -- understood that people can make mistakes and still be good human beings, can fall and rise again. And he chose to focus on the rising.

I'm including one more song lyric because I think it absolutely captures the message of hope that Ray Charles sent spinning out from all his music to the millions who loved him. He was telling them that he loved them too, and that, more importantly, they could never truly live until they loved themselves.

"Let Your Love Flow" by Ray Charles

There's a reason for the sunshine sky,
And there's a reason why I'm feelin' so high.
Must be the season when that love light shines
All around us.

So let that feeling grab you deep inside
And send you reeling where your love can't hide
And then you'll go stealing through the moonlit nights
With your lover.

Just let your love flow like a mountain stream
And let your love grow with the smallest of dreams
And let your love show and you'll know what I mean
It's the season.

Let your love fly like a bird on the wing
And let your love bind you to all living things,
And let your love shine and you'll know what I mean,
That's the reason.

Now there's a reason for the warm sweet nights
There's a reason for the candle lights.
It must be the season when those love rites shine
All around us.

So let that wonder take you into space
And lay you under its loving embrace
Just feel the thunder as it warms your face
You can't hold back.

All you do is just let your love flow like a mountain stream
And let your love grow with the smallest of dreams
And let your love show and you'll know what I mean
It's the season.

Let your love fly like a bird on the wing
Let your love bind you to all living things,
And let your love shine and you'll know what I mean,
That's the reason. ...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Everything old is new again

I'm up in the middle of the night here on the West Coast, and I'm delving into my roots as a History major to bring you a choice tidbit.

It's the year 1890, and the robber barons are in full control of the machinery of government. A plucky little movement called the Populists has organized as a major threat to both corporate-dominated political parties.

What follows is a choice selection from the platform written in 1890 for the party by Ignatius Donnelly. It's a stunningly worded piece that seems visionary even now and that bears a striking resemblance to many of the things being written both on- and offline today by the radical left. See if you can pick out the parallels with the Iraq war, the current economic conditions, the rise of big business, and the alleged Ohio irregularities, among other amazing similarities.

...We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. ... The people are demoralized; ... the newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. ... The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires. ... A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.

We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform. ... They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires.

Assembled on the anniversary of the birthday of the nation, and filled with the spirit of the grand general and chief who established our independence, we seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the ''plain people,'' with which class it originated. We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution; to form a more perfect union and establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. ...

Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is not precedent in the history of the world. ... We pledge ourselves that if given power we will labor to correct these evils by wise and reasonable legislation, in accordance with the terms of our platform. We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teaching of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land. ...

Platform
We declare, therefore—

First.—That the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual; may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the republic and the uplifting of mankind.

Second.—Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. ''If any will not work, neither shall he eat.'' The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies are identical.

Third.—We believe that the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads; and should the government enter upon the work of owning and managing all railroads, we should favor an amendment to the constitution by which all persons engaged in the government service shall be placed under a civil-service regulation of the most rigid character, so as to prevent the increase of the power of the national administration by the use of such additional government employees. ...

We demand a graduated income tax.

We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we demand that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of the government, economically and honestly administered. ...

TRANSPORTATION.—Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph and telephone, like the post-office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.

LAND.—The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.

Expressions of Sentiments
Your Committee on Platform and Resolutions beg leave unanimously to report the following: Whereas, Other questions have been presented for our consideration, we hereby submit the following, not as a part of the Platform of the People's Party, but as resolutions expressive of the sentiment of this Convention.

RESOLVED, That we demand a free ballot and a fair count in all elections and pledge ourselves to secure it to every legal voter without Federal Intervention, through the adoption by the States of the unperverted Australian or secret ballot system. ...

RESOLVED, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people and the reform press the legislative system known as the initiative and referendum.

RESOLVED, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice-President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.

RESOLVED, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose. ...


Two important points Donnelly raises here have still not been enacted. The first is the introduction of a national initiative and referendum, by which Americans could change laws by a direct popular vote. The second is the last provision, opposition to "any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose". I do not believe in corporate welfare or even corporate bailouts, for any reason; if we're going to oppose the laws of free enterprise, we ought to do so for the benefit of the people, not the major corporations.

In any case, it's just a jaw-dropping declaration of sentiments. I've omitted a lot of it that seemed dated to me, particularly all the stuff about Free Silver (which -- oddly enough -- we actually have now, in adulterated form) -- but if you're interested, go read the rest of it.

Enough of nerddom for now -- I'm going to bed.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Friday (not) Random Ten

Ten songs I wish I had with me on the beach:

1. "Beautiful Valley," Don Conoscenti
2. "Beautiful World," Colin Hay
3. "Take All the Sky You Need," Ellis Paul
4. "The Ocean," Dar Williams (duh)
5. "Tangerine Shirt," Kate McDonnell
6. "Blue," Jayhawks
7. "There Goes Mavis," Richard Shindell
8. "Gentle Arms of Eden," Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
9. "Suzanne," Leonard Cohen
10. "Out of the Blue," Willy Porter

Not necessarily in that order . . .

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Schweitzer for President

I realized after I put up that last post on the environment that I hadn't properly introduced myself. I'm Jeremy Young, Arizona/Maryland occasional blogger. I met Jay blogging for the Dean campaign -- and I've been reading here ever since he put up that wonderful post on the Deanblog comparing the nine Democratic Presidential candidates to a baseball team. I also did quite a bit of on- and off-line volunteer work for the doomed Babbitt for Congress campaign here in Arizona. Now I'm working on an ambitious new project, and Jay gave me permission to plug it here.

So -- introducing Schweitzer for President -- the online nerve center for news, views, and field reports on the nascent movement to draft Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer into the presidential race in 2008 (or later).

Why Brian Schweitzer? Because he is the most intelligent, most eloquent politician I have seen in a long time. Because he knows how to frame issues like the environment and individual liberties and progressive values in ways a large majority of the American people can understand. Because he's not afraid to stand up and say "No!" to special interests, or to tell the downtrodden that they matter. Because he's shown he can win in the reddest of red states. Because he's supported strongly by progressives and moderates alike. Because he is honest and decent and kind and visionary.

Don't believe me? Come on over and check out the site. Read some of the articles on the sidebar, or some of the posts on the main page.

P.S. I know this site is pretty much a Feingold site. Truth be told, of all the candidates that have made it clear they're looking at running, I support Feingold the most. But that doesn't mean I can't still try to draft Brian Schweitzer into the race while supporting Feingold as the best of the likely candidates. After all, Kos was able to found a Draft Clark movement and then support Dean.

Oh, and thanks to Jay for letting me post my divergent views on his territory. The courtesy is much appreciated. :)

An Obituary for the Environmentalist Movement?

Like many movements, this one started with a book.

Certainly, there was the earlier proto-environmental movement involving John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and protector of Yellowstone; Theodore Roosevelt, who protected 190 million acres of America's wildlands; and Gifford Pinchot, who founded the U.S. Forest Service and later helped bring down the conservative Taft administration. But the achievements of this group of visionaries were largely obliterated by the end of the 1920's. Muir was unable to save the Hetch Hetchy valley from damming and destruction; Roosevelt's wildlands were largely returned to development by the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations; and Pinchot's Forest Service became a moderating veneer over all manner of degradations by logging companies on America's forests. And the movement remained dead for thirty years.

And then in 1962 came the book that changed everything. I am reading that book, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, right now. It is not an easy read, either in language or in import. It explains in punishing detail how chemical pesticides reduce long-established species of plants and animals to rubble and create a sort of genocide against nature. It leaves unsaid the most difficult implication of all: that, just as Attila's hordes could not find succor without destroying everything in their wake, every expansionary move made by the human race leads to the death of some part of the natural world.

After the book came the movement, complete with its own Prophet, the great David Brower. Declaring, "We do not inherit the earth from our fathers, we are borrowing it from our children," he transformed Muir's moribund Sierra Club into a powerful weapon that he successfully wielded against those who wanted to dam the Grand Canyon. Sympathetic laws flowed down from the federal government in quick succession -- the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Wild River Act, and the Wilderness Act. This last measure created another level of wildland protection even higher than that of National Park: the National Wilderness Area, in which even human visitation would be limited in order to preserve untouched the wildlands of America. The Act stated, "Wilderness...is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. ..." The Act was passed "in order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas...leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition...to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. ..."

But, as with all organized movements, the environmentalist movement passed into dark days. During the Reagan years, the atrocious James Watt held court at the Interior Department, which became a nerve center for the organized destruction of forests and wildlands across America. The environmental movement fell into the hands of militants such as Edward Abbey, who called in his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang for a suicide bomber to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona. The image of a a burning ski lodge in Vail, Colorado, set afire by ecoterrorists, was emblazoned into the American collective memory.

Yet the movement was restored to potency in the 1990's by a pair of Democratic politicians: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Vice President Al Gore. Babbitt convinced President Bill Clinton to create 58 million acres of National Wilderness Area by executive order; Gore traveled to Kyoto and personally saved the emission-reducing talks there. But with Gore's heartbreaking loss to George Bush in the 2000 election, these reforms were all undone. Bush summarily pulled out of the Kyoto Accords that Gore had worked so hard to save. Last month, he gutted Brower's priceless Wilderness Act by declaring all National Wilderness Areas open to logging and mining.

But it is not these setbacks that cause me to worry that the environmental movement is dead. All movements ebb and flow with the changing winds of political fortune. Rather, it is that no one seems to care that the environment is in dire straits.

As I read Silent Spring, I see as never before the deeply-rooted conservatism in the environmentalist movement. Carson declares that the environmental problem arose because "The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature. ..." She laments that "time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time." She essentially calls for a halt to all adulteration of the world by humanity in favor of conserving the world created by nature.

Carson's message is not an easy one for a progressive movement increasingly concerned with what the name implies: progress, and a sort of libertarian freedom of expansion and individuality. Conservationists, on the other hand, are beginning to realize that it is no coincidence that the name of their movement stems from the root of "conservativism." The Republican party cannot be responsive to conservation, beholden as it is to corporate interests; but the split between environmentalists and progressive Democrats, it seems to me, runs far deeper, at the ideological level. How can one express one's individuality, one's liberty, when one is constantly being careful where one treads in order not to destroy nature?

I am fearful that progressives and environmentalists have come to a parting of the ways. Such a severance would be disastrous for both groups, in my judgment, as conservationists found themselves helpless and alone and liberals discovered their victories hollowed by the absence of a meaningful natural world. Still, I am uncertain how to heal this ever-widening breach between the two groups and philosophies.

I have been called, by some more fervent in the cause than I, a fake environmentalist. And it is true that I would rather sit in a comfortable chair and write than dirty my hands cleaning trash along the highway; I readily admit this failing. Nevertheless, in my own way I am prepared to fight for the sanctity of this planet against the human invader. I will match my pen against any man's hoe to preserve unspoiled by human touch the remnants of this world we call ours but that belongs truly only to itself. If this means breaking with progressives, then so be it.

But I hope fervently that my fellow progressives will stop to smell the wildflowers and recognize the importance of the natural world before it slips silently away.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Advocate Weekly 8

Just popping in from scenic (and rainy) Mexico to tell you all to check out Joe´s fine work putting together another Advocate Weekly.

Milwaukee's Next Great Wingnut?

Writing live from Southeastern Wisconsin, it's ColdFusion04, author of Growing Up Red: Outing Red America From the Inside. Thanks to Jay for the opportunity to fill in while he is on vacation!

I'd like to point out an interesting phenomenon going on in Milwaukee radio. Those of us in the area already know well about the lack of diversity in the AM radio market, as WISN and WTMJ dominate the airwaves with wingnut after wingnut. Hey, what can I say? I'm sure it makes good business sense, since they seem to play off the same script of bashing liberal activists, liberal judges, liberal college students, anti-American liberals, and "peacenik wackos". And suburbanites near Milwaukee love the script.

However, when WISN (1130 AM) moved their popular morning show (Weber and Dolan) to mid-morning, they started a contest to fill the morning show slot. I spent some time perusing the contestants, and I see they are not breaking the mold, as the list reads like a James Dobson Focus on the Family list of all-stars. Financial Analysts, Conservative Political Consultants, and unknown liberal bashers abound, as they all strive to be the next Mark Belling.

But pay attention, folks. This is our chance. There are a handful of candidates who are less wingnutty, less offensive. Let's band together and get a voice of reason on the AM dial for the morning drive. Wouldn't it be refreshing, for a change, to get an actual neutral view of current events, without the token PETA references and tired "anti-American war protestor" cliched fodder?

Start today by going to Milwaukee's Next Talk Star and VOTE AGAINST "Michael W" (Click on "Vote for Today's Competitors"). "His turn-offs are liberal activists, liberal judges, liberal activist judges, and not being able to taste his lite beer." I heard him this morning heartily agreeing with a caller (Updated per Owen's comment below), who blamed Senator Feingold and Senator Kohl for "opposing Bush at every turn", therefore leading to the proposed closing of the 440th airlift wing. As though the two issues are somewhat related?!?

He finished his segment by happily pointing out that all of his subjects from the previous hour seemed to be centered around bashing Liberal activists. Is this a guy you'd like to listen to on your way to work in the morning? No? Me neither. Please vote for Neal L, instead. Voting for today continues through 8:30 p.m.

Also pay attention on June 28th, when Brian Fraley, well-known Republican shill and political consultant, goes up for a vote. We should work together and keep these vitriol-laden half-wits off the Milwaukee airwaves. We have enough of those already, thank you very much.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I'm off

It's about twelve hours now until we get on the bus to Midway airport and thence to Mexico. I leave you in two capable hands, Jeremy Young and Cold Fusion 04. They both have other great projects that I'm sure they will tell you all about when they introduce themselves. I will be checking in occasionally (I wouldn't go someplace without at least some net access!) but I doubt I will be posting anything until I get back. When I do, I will have something to say about this story, as well as comments on the paper's school choice series. I just didn't have time to get to them this week.

So, take it away, fellas!

Small Schools IV: There's a right way, and then there's this way

This is the final post in my series (prelude, part I, part II, part III), in which I am looking at the small high school trend, using the current experience here in the Milwaukee Public Schools and the Summer issue of Rethinking Schools, wherein the best school-reform magazine on the planet tackles the subject. Today, further evidence that MPS comprehensive high school pegs are being squeezed into holes of the exact wrong shape.

In my last post, I alluded to an essay from that issue of Rethinking Schools by Craig Gordon, called "My Small School Journey." Gordon is a high school teacher in Oakland, and a couple of years back, he found himself in the exact same position as I am in now. And I think the subtitle of his article kind of says it all: "An Oakland teacher experiences the negative effects of small school reform in the midst of a budget crisis."

After setting the stage with depressing stats about his high school, Fremont, Gordon explains his reaction to the news that his school would become a multiplex of small schools (my emphasis):
I doubted that "small" would solve Fremont's problems, especially since small schools don't necessarily mean small classes. I had long been inspired by the ideas of the small schools movement and had chosen to transfer several years earlier to a small learning community within Fremont High. As a history and TV production teacher in Fremont's Media Academy, I appreciated its focus on learning-by-doing and the opportunity to get to know a relatively small community of students and teachers. I felt the collegiality of a small learning community made me a better teacher.

On the other hand, I did not see large high schools as the root cause of my school's many problems. I believe addressing the gap in educational achievement requires supplying the resources needed to address profound social and economic inequality. Genuine progress means multiplying education budgets several-fold to cut class sizes and upgrade facilities. The promised investment in small school reform did not appear to address any of these needs.
And it didn't get any better for him, despite the news that his school would be working with the local affiliate of the Coalition of Essential Schools; CES are the Good Guys in educational reform. The grant money to do this, of course, came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Rethinking Schools has a great piece on the Gates money here, but I don't have time to get into it.) He describes the problems as they multiply:
One of our first discoveries was that the "offer" to break up our school wasn't an offer at all, but a superintendent's decree. Our principal revealed that the superintendent had already decided to break Fremont into small schools and had placed the principal at Fremont the previous year to lead that change. I felt this approach contradicted CES principles developed through years of experience that successful small schools "should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school" and that "change efforts fail without the support of all key stakeholders from the start," according to the CES website [. . .].

Instead of grassroots reform, some teachers saw administrators chasing the latest gush of green while trying to outrun increasingly harsh state and federal mandates for underperforming schools. As they ran, they shouted orders to teachers: Immediately form design teams with whomever you can, brainstorm, research and write proposals and be ready to open up brand-new, high-performing schools by next September. Oh, and don't forget to teach your current students and boost those high-stakes test scores.

In case we didn't feel the heat, our principal filled our mailboxes with news of [private-school company] Edison's takeover of Philadelphia Public Schools and other examples of the fire just beyond our frying pan.
This same scene has been played out across the Milwaukee Public Schools in the past two years--and perhaps it will be in my school this fall. This just isn't the way to do reform; as we learned in a previous post in this series, the successful small schools are bottom-up and designed not in pursuit of money but in pursuit of community goals not otherwise being met. And in this kind of top-down enforced reform, teachers are left powerless, but with a myriad of questions that administrators would prefer not to answer:
Our administrators trumpeted this as "educational entrepreneurship," reflecting an assumption that public schools should become more like private businesses. Meanwhile, they seemed unable or unwilling to answer many questions staff raised at union site meetings: Will the new schools try to run without counselors? How will small schools offer music, drama, foreign languages, sports programs? How is the process structured for us to have some say in the change? Where is the time to do this mandated forming of small schools? Will small autonomous schools with small autonomous budgets turn seniority upside down, favoring cheap new teachers over expensive old ones? Is this a union-busting technique? How could small high school faculties offer full programs while respecting our contractual right to teach no more than two subjects? Is this grant-driven reform a kind of school privatization?
I have written before about my dislike of TALC, the Milwaukee organization founded by a newly-elected school board member and largest single beneficiary of the Gates money here in town. A couple of years ago at a meeting of my school's department chairs, a TALC representative and the lead small-school guy from the district met with us. We peppered these two with questions such as those above, and at every turn we were met with, "That's a good question. We'll have to figure that out when we get there." And by we, he meant us out on the limb and trying to burn a dozen candles at all 24 ends. Good luck talking us into that.

Gordon goes on to lay some blame firmly at the feet of his union, which--like some other unions I can, unfortunately, name--didn't do enough to stop the bureaucratic movement to small schools, which leads to balkanization and ultimately a weakening of the union.

I emphasized above the lines from Gordon which indicated that a better way to address schools' performance problems would be an analysis of and effort to resolve deep-seeded issues of class and race in America's urban centers. That kind of effort is sorely needed in Milwaukee, given that we are, depending on what study you look at, either the most or second-most segregated metro area in the country. But at least people in Oakland, where Gordon teaches, tried to step up to the plate a little bit:
[Oakland Education Association] took the position that real reform is inseparable from a campaign for full educational funding. It argued that small schools can be an important part of this reform as long as they are sustainable. OEA's high school caucus statement said this means "schools with the resources to offer full programs and to provide educators with respect, reasonable workloads, small classes, and adequate support, materials, facilities, and time to plan lessons and to run the school. Teacher teams will be empowered only [if they have] enough time during the workday to discuss and make wise policies."

Critics of these demands said that's unrealistic, "There's no money for that." But there is money, even in a "poor" city like Oakland. OEA commissioned a study by a local nonprofit research group showing that Oakland has the 18th largest gross metropolitan product in the United States (more than $100 billion), and Forbes Magazine ranked Oakland as the eighth best city for business in the United States. In 2002, Oakland-based Clorox Corporation paid its CEO $31 million, enough to pay for about 600 new teachers or 400 highly qualified veterans (including health benefits, which the district is currently trying to cap). Instead Clorox has claimed the mantle of benevolent corporate citizen by contributing $500,000 over the course of eight years, about 1/500 of its profit in a single year (2002).

OEA launched a campaign to redistribute corporate wealth to fund schools, youth centers, and libraries, which have all suffered from cutbacks and closures. Redistribution could come via taxation or direct agreements with big businesses won through grassroots organizing. The union has worked to put these issues on the public agenda with demonstrations targeting major corporate headquarters and by widely distributing information from its corporate wealth study.
There is no comparable effort underway in Milwaukee, whether headed by the union or not. We have the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, which has brought together typically opposed forces, such as business and the teachers' union. But no one anywhere in the city is really talking about adequate school funding. In fact, there is a debate going on right now at the state level, wherein the legislature's Joint Finance Committee is at odds with the governor over how much to fund schools, with Republicans insisting that four years in a row of lower-than-promised funds to schools is not a big deal, and Democrats (and superintendents, parents, teachers, school boards, and students) saying that, yeah, actually it is. (Apparently, Republicans can find $40 million for pork projects but not for MPS.)

In either case, MPS is not seeing the kind of funds it needs to maintain what it has, let alone create dozens of small schools, each of which will require its own layers of bureaucracy and which, ultimately, will cost the district more per-pupil. Given that the Gates money is already gone, essentially, and MPS is cutting staff and programs left and right, I don't see how we can afford to build new programs. I have also written before how, in the last few years, my school has seen a very minor--like 40 students minor--fall in enrollment. At the same time, we have lost eighteen teaching positions. That averages one teacher cut for every drop of two students in enrollment. This is not right. And if the Joint Finance Committee doesn't come through with 2/3 funding of schools--as the governor wants to do and as MPS has budgeted for--we are likely to lose one or two more. (Aside: You would have to be an idiot to believe that health insurance costs are responsible for a cut of more than 20% of our staff; costs have not gone up that much in three years.)

Gordon recognizes the budget problems in Oakland, and describes how the state imposed an awful administrator to deal with the issues. MPS is not in danger of state takeover, and thank goodness, since it sounds like it was murder in Oakland. But Gordon ties threads together in a very cogent point near the end:
Despite the misuse of reform in Oakland, many of us don't think the problems we've seen here are inherent in small schools or in the small schools movement. But they are inherent in the wildly mistaken belief that small schools or any other reform will go very far for very long without adequate resources and in the unexamined belief that austerity in the midst of plenty is a natural event. These assumptions set up educators to make damaging trade offs, such as cutting electives, counselors or libraries, or choosing to further overcrowd classrooms or overload teachers with unsustainable courseloads.

When school reform is done on the cheap it can become a string of broken promises to teachers, students, and communities. It can also complicate and compromise the position of organizations like [the Coalition of Essential Schools]. Such groups may set out to make valuable contributions to district and school reform processes by providing information and strategies and some of the public pressure that bureaucratized school systems often need to open up any space at all for reform. However, they can also become instruments of policies that undermine their own expressed goals and guiding principles.
And this is what I fear will become of Milwaukee's high schools. At my school, we are already looking at ninth- and tenth-grade classes of 45 students. We are looking at a cut from four counselors this year to 2.5. We are looking at severe cuts in foreign language and the elimination of our technology coordinator position. And these are not uncommon across MPS. If the Joint Finance Committee drops the ball again; if Milwaukee as a whole refuses to commit resources to its public (as opposed to private voucher) schools; if this press for small schools continues without adequate consideration for long-term funding, segregation and tracking issues, effects on No Child Left Behind measures, and more; if we continue to treat urban schools as laboratories and urban (read: poor and minority) children as experimental rats; then we will certainly continue to lose ground to the suburbs and to the world.

I started this series with the Rethinking Schools editors' assertion that "the small-schools train has left the station." I, for one, want off of this train.

[Repeated note: I can praise Rethinking Schools up and down and back and forth, but the fact is that they are a non-profit and can't pay their employees with my kind words. You can download the full .pdf of the issue in question for a mere $5, or you can subscribe (at the same link) for $18, $30, or $40 for one, two, or three years. If you care at all about school reform, you simply must subscribe.]

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Haves/ Have-nots/ Property Values

This story deserves more attention than I can give it. I'm busy cleaning and packing today, and then, of course, will be gone for a week. So, someone take care of it, okay?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday Random Ten

The School's Out for Summer Edition

1. "Waiting to Derail" Whiskeytown from Strangers Almanac
2. "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now" Cracker from Cracker
3. "I'm Gone" Allison Krauss & Union Station from New Favorite
4. "Is There Anybody Here" Disappear Fear from Disappear Fear
5. "Paradox of Grace" Don Conoscenti from Paradox of Grace
6. "Halfway Home" Darryl Purpose from Same River Twice
7. "Snowman" The Nields from Live from Northampton
8. "The Only Living Boy in New York" Simon & Garfunkel from Best of
9. "Clouds" the Jayhawks from Hollywood Town Hall
10. "Lying Down" Kirsty MacColl from Electric Landlady

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A bit of a respite

Part four of my small schools series will come tomorrow. I'm a little blogged out, and otherwise plum tuckered. Today was my last official day of school, though I will have to go in tomorrow for paperwork.

And then there's just this weekend, and Monday morning we fly off to Mexico. You'll have two fantastic guests sitting in while I'm gone, so you can still get your daily dose of rambles and rants. At any rate, it's almost bedtime . . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Small Schools III: Bureaucracy + Privatizers = Danger

This is the third in a continuing series (prelude, part I, part II), in which I am looking at the small high school trend, using the current experience here in the Milwaukee Public Schools and the Summer issue of Rethinking Schools, wherein the best school-reform magazine on the planet tackles the subject. Today, a reckoning of how MPS is ruining a good thing, in more ways than one.

The lead article from this issue of Rethinking Schools is Michelle Fine's "Not in Our Name." With a title like that, you can bet that Fine is displeased with the current runaway train of small schools. Now, Fine has been involved in school reform for decades, and has a good sense of what the original small-school pioneers were doing, and what about their work has been successful. In the new small-school movement, she sees red flags everywhere, starting, in fact, with the ignorance of those jumping on the bandwagon: "Maybe we weren't clear," she writes. Personally, I think it's not that Fine and others weren't clear; it's all about the density of those co-opting their ideas. She continues,
The small schools movement was never simply about size.

When committed educators and community activists in New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Oakland, Boston, and Cincinnati launched the movement, they were desperately seeking alternatives to the failures of big city high schools. They fashioned a vibrant, gutsy social movement for creating democratic, warm, and intellectually provocative schools, particularly for poor and working-class youth of color.
That's right: What's important in a small school is not the small, but the gutsy democratic provocativeness. But note the introduction the superintendent of the MIlwaukee Public Schools gave his small schools proposal:
Andrekopoulos' argument for the initiative focuses on these three R's:

Relationships: The idea is that in a school of 300 or so students, everyone (both teachers and students) gets to know each other better than in a school of 1,500. People bond more, the kids feel more connected to the school and, encouraged by these things, the kids come to school more and put more effort into their work.

Relevance: [. . .] Kids could pick something that pushes a button with them, that connects their thinking to their future. In general, the smaller setting and warmer relationships would give kids more reason to think school is relevant.

Rigor: The idea is that when teachers have better relationships with students, when they're showing up for school more regularly, then teachers can ask more of them. They will be expected to do better work and, most important, to graduate.
I don't see anything about vibrant and gutsy. I don't see anything about democracy. It is here where the new small-school pushers are primarily unclear on the concept. Yes, many small schools produce great results; that doesn't mean, though, that cookie-cuttering the process will spread the success. Fine says that position can't be more wrong:
[T]oday, across urban America, we are witnessing a new phase in the small schools movement. Despite many of its profoundly bottom-up ancestors, this new small schools movement is top-down and privately subsidized. It's branded as "systemic reform" but doesn't reform the system. There is an industry afoot to mass produce and export "small" across urban zip codes, without much thinking about how to create a just system of quality schools for urban youth.

This rapid proliferation of mass-produced small schools initiated from the top with private funds--and usually imposed on urban communities and educators--is cause for much concern. Bureaucrats and private funders are undertaking reforms without the wisdom and social justice concerns of the early small schools educators.
Now, you and I both now that bureauucrats + privatizers always = perfection. But Fine doesn't.

Okay, okay, I really don't either. In fact, you have to pretty much be an idiot not to see that top-down bureaucrat-inspired change is pretty much the opposite of meaningful reform. And that's a great deal of what I was trying to say yesterday; when a school's staff recognizes the need for reform, they can take the lead. After all, the school's staff--with parents, students, and the immediate community--know best both what is needed and what best will fill those needs. The staff at my school, deeply resistant to the idea of being split into a "multiplex" of small schools, has spent a lot of time figuring out where we go wrong and how to fix it. We have bought in to that; we're not buying in to small schools. And forcing "reform" on people is not democracy.

The cynical among us see the top-down reform not only as undemocratic, but as a further tool of those determined to destroy public schools. Not satisfied with the poison pill that is No Child Left Behind, and the creeping cancer of vouchers, privateers have seized upon small schools as another way to undermine the strengths of large public school districts. Fine laments,
It breaks my heart to see the small schools movement commodified, ripped from its participatory and radical roots, and used to facilitate union busting, privatization, faith-based public education, and gentrification. To be sure, public education has always been a contested space; educational reforms have always blended elements that were potentially oppressive and subversively liberatory. But educational reforms, of late, have been systematically transformed into political efforts to undermine our most inclusive and democratic institutions in the service of privatization and perpetual inequality. And the small schools movement is no exception. Before "small" becomes the vehicle by which top-down, neoliberal reform dismantles the common good of public education, I say--for so many of us--not in our name.
Um, ditto.

Finally, Michelle Fine notes something that I have been saying for years: The problems in urban public high schools cannot be solely blamed on the size of the school. Craig Gordon, a high school teacher from Oakland, writes later in the magazine that he saw solutions in "supplying the resources needed to address profound social and economic inequality." Yeah, yeah, throwing money at a problem won't always fix it. But neither will any other one-size-fits all bastardization of whatever train everyone else thinks is popular. Fine:
Small schools are not a quick fix, an easy strategy, a silver bullet. As a simple idea alone, they are certainly not sufficient to transform a whole district. Sitting beneath "small" lays a set of inextricably connected commitments about curriculum, pedagogy, equity, sustainability, teaching, and learning. Taken together, these elements can help provide answers to the devastating failures of large, comprehensive high schools in urban America.
Bingo--give me the funds to hire the best and brightest young teachers, keep them for five years, and train the hell out of them in the process, and then check up on how the school is doing. Beyond that, provide the funds for large-scale investment in the community rocked by poverty and unemployment, mobility and uncertainty, illiteracy and segregation, and, again, check on the schools.

Can small be better? You bet. But when done undemocratically, and without addressing the social justice issues pervading the district, small becomes just . . . small.

[Repeated note: I can praise Rethinking Schools up and down and back and forth, but the fact is that they are a non-profit and can't pay their employees with my kind words. You can download the full .pdf of the issue in question for a mere $5, or you can subscribe (at the same link) for $18, $30, or $40 for one, two, or three years. If you care at all about school reform, you simply must subscribe.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Small Schools II: Small is Good; Big is, Too

This is the second in a continuing series (prelude, part I), in which I am looking at the small high school trend, using the current experience here in the Milwaukee Public Schools (where I see the oncoming train) and the Summer issue of Rethinking Schools, wherein the best school-reform magazine on the planet tackles the subject. Today, I offer a defense of the comprehensive high school.

[Repeated note: I can praise Rethinking Schools up and down and back and forth, but the fact is that they are a non-profit and can't pay their employees with my kind words. You can download the full .pdf of the issue in question for a mere $5, or you can subscribe (at the same link) for $18, $30, or $40 for one, two, or three years. If you care at all about school reform, you simply must subscribe.]

In that issue of Rethinking Schools, they reprint an essay from small-schools pioneer Deborah Meier (founder of many small schools, including famed Mission Hill). Sadly, the essay is an excerpt from her book The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons from a Small School in Harlem (review here), so it is not available online. But in this essay, she paints a near-unbelievable picture of what it's like to work in the havens her small schools have become:
The kinds of change required by today's agenda can only be the work of thoughtful teachers. Either we acknowledge and create conditions based on this fact, conditions for teachers to work collectively and collaboratively and openly, or we create conditions that encourage resistance, secrecy, and sabotage. [. . .] Thoughtfulness is time-consuming. Collaboration is time-consuming. The time they both consume can't be private time, late-at-night at-home time. To find time for thoughtful discussion we need to create schools in which consensus is easy to arrive at while argument is encouraged (even fostered) and focused on those issues of teaching and learning close to teacher and student experiences [. . .].

In a small school we can dare to experiment without feeling we are treating kids like guinea pigs. After all, what doesn't work isn't irreversible. We can reschedule one afternoon and put a new agenda into practice the next morning. We can undo them just a s fast. changes don't require Herculean coordination or time-consuming bureaucratic arranging. In short, smallness makes democracy feasible, and without democracy we won't be able to create the kind of profound thinking the times demand.
Meier makes a persuasive case, and when I read about her and other small-urban-school gods in those heady days of college when I was sure my teacher-certification program was preparing me to change the world one classroom at a time, I was fairly well persuaded. I thought for sure that if I could find a district that would let me do exactly what Meier describes, I could turn around even the most intransigent of students.

But I didn't end up at that district; I ended up in the Milwaukee Public Schools, after a detour through the suburbs--but that's another post. I ended up at a comprehensive high school, the kind of school that has been mocked in the educational press as a "Shopping Mall High School." When I was in college, I hated that high school, always trying to be all things to all people and failing miserably. It never crossed my mind that I was a product of such a high school, a school that consistently scored near the top in Ohio (and kicked butt in Division I football!). My high school had a diverse student body, in race and socioeconomics. But it was also very, very rich, with some pretty hefty corporate giants headquartered in the district, allowing it to keep classes small and keep teachers top-notch.

So there I was, in this comprehensive high school that lacked the kind of funding I had seen in my own youth, and, frankly, a little bit lost. Luckily, the school was in the process of applying to become an affiliate of the International Baccalaureate, a program I myself had graduated from. In a very real way, my getting involved in the program was an attempt to create that small-school atmosphere; only a select few students and a select few teachers would participate, I thought, since the IB is not easy or for everybody. Yet the veterans also involved in the application process quickly disabused me of that notion: We have to be democratic about it, they said, egalitarian. Any teacher who wants to participate should be trained and allowed to teach in the program; any student who wants to give it a shot should be given that shot.

What's that? I asked myself. Here was Deborah Meier's democratic sensibility among old-fart big-school teachers and administrators. How can we do democratic, I wondered, if we're not small?

It turns out it was easy: If you have a good idea, and a good framework of a plan, you can get other committed folks to buy in. Small-d democracy is shockingly easy to market. And so the IB program at my school was born, and has expanded. We also offer other programs that appeal to the college-bound and not-college-bound alike, and many teachers (not to mention students!) have their thumbs in multiple small-program pies. And it is in this sense of overlap and community that we have, I believe, our greatest strength. Sure, it's a shopping mall, but a weird kind of mall where the employees work at multiple kiosks and the shoppers have many favorite stores. (Okay, that was really labored, but I think you get the point.)

Now, I do not want to paint an overly rosy picture. Anybody with a handle on Google can dig up test scores, graduation and attendance data, and other measures on my school to question the efficacy of our approach. Sure, we're a "school in need of improvement," but we are far from the worst within MPS, and showed gains everywhere except math in the last round of testing (one of these days, I'll do a full-on testing rant), following pretty steady improvement in years prior. I'm reminded here of that old chestnut, the perfect is the enemy of the good: If you expect us only to be perfect, you dismiss all the good we do.

And remember why we suspect that our school may be slated for small-schoolinization in the first place (see the prelude): Our superintendent doesn't much care for our outgoing principal. Imperfect scores or not, vindictiveness hardly seems like a sound pedagogical rationale.

Anyway, what would happen to us if we went to small schools, if we "multiplexed"? First of all, teachers and students with allegiance to multiple programs within the building would have to choose. All those interconnected ties we have been building for the past seven or eight years will be severed. This hardly seems democratic to me. Second, the more expensive of our programs will be jeopardized: The IB, for example, is not cheap (but, given the results, it would be a bargain at twice the price), nor is the health services program we have, which features CNA certifications courses. Electronics? Forget about it, too.

Worse is the third problem: If those programs survive, and I hope they would, they would likely be in their own, separate small schools. This would create a tremendous tracking problem, with elite students and teachers in some of the small schools and everyone else lumped into the others. This is certainly not egalitarian or democratic. Even now, as the coordinator of the IB and a teacher of several of those classes, I still get a share of the regular classes (fewer now that I'm also department chair), special education students, NCLB testing, and all.

Finally, given that the "multiplex" is being forced primarily on schools with high percentages of African American students, what kind of message does it send our black students? You can't handle a "regular" school? What does that say about our opinion of their chances in college?

So, this is my case for the comprehensive high school: We can be democratic. We can be successful. Give us the chance.

Tomorrow: More from Rethinking Schools on some of the issues I raised here, and more.

Bad news for Walker: Tosa Ranger

No, it's not that there's a new tax on karate high-kicks; it's that 18 months away from the election, his campaign for governor is flagging:
Walker will have been at the reins as Milwaukee County executive for four years by the time the 2006 gubernatorial campaign is in full swing. It is a job that he ran for aggressively, so continuing to blame the failed Ament administration for his problems, or failing to find innovative solutions, won't be good enough.

Voters will want to know what has he done to fix these problems, and the answer right now is, "well, not much." That's not a plan either for a successful run for governor or service as the county's top official. [. . .]

Politicians can get tripped up by their own reflexive opportunism. A higher office opens up (for Walker, county exec was bigger than being a state legislator) so they run for it and hope it leads to yet another promotion later.

Walker made no secret of wanting to use the county executive's office as a platform to seek the governorship, but that may have looked more achievable in 2002 as a long-range plan than it does in the short-run today. [. . .]

A better plan is the strategic, early end to his campaign. [. . .] Walker's stepping aside would spare Republican voters the need to choose among two almost identical right-wing opponents, open the way to a simplified partisan and ideological choice between Doyle and Green, and give Milwaukee County taxpayers what they really need and are paying for:

The full-time attention of a full-time county executive.
This is not to suggest that Mark "Jolly" Green (how does that nickname work?) is faring any better. Republicans should be thanking their lucky stars (or jeebus figurines, or highways, or whatever they worship) that there will probably be an anti-gay bigotty-bigot amendment on the ballot to drive up turnout for whichever of the two limp rags gets the nomination.

(Hat tip to Scott.)

We interrupt the education posts

to bring you some more on vote fraud. Today's headline: Voter ID bill could unfairly target some: More minorities lack driver's licenses than whites, study finds. To which I say, I coulda told you that for a lot less than your study cost . . .

But there's some good data here:
Among black males between ages 18 and 24, 78% lacked a driver's license, the largest percentage of any demographic in the study. Other groups in which a majority lacked a driver's license were black males of any age (55% lack a license); Hispanic women of any age (59%); and black women, Hispanic men and Hispanic women between ages 18 and 24 (all between 57% and 66%). [. . .] By contrast, only 17% of white men and white women of voting age in Wisconsin lack a driver's license. [. . .]

Several observers said the study confirmed what anecdotal evidence had suggested about which Wisconsinites don't carry a state-issued photo ID and, presumably, would be affected if state law required one to vote. [. . .]

Pawasarat's study says not having a driver's license is a bigger obstacle to getting a job than not having a high school diploma but no one had developed a nuanced understanding of how severe that issue was for specific segments of the population until now. Three-fourths of the job opportunities in the Milwaukee area, he notes, are in suburbs and outlying counties that are hard to reach by public transportation, yet 35% of Milwaukee County residents lack licenses, a much higher proportion than the rest of the state.
While true that the Voter ID bill makes a state ID free, it's only free if you can take the time off of work to get to the DMV . . .

Ah, well. This study will likely only strengthen Republican resolve to pass a voter ID bill.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Small Schools I: Runaway Train

As I promised last week, I will be looking at the small high school trend, using the current experience here in the Milwaukee Public Schools (where I see the oncoming train) and the Summer issue of Rethinking Schools, wherein the best school-reform magazine on the planet tackles the subject.

[A side note: I can praise Rethinking Schools up and down and back and forth, but the fact is that they are a non-profit and can't pay their employees (hi, Mike!) with my kind words. You can download the full .pdf of the issue in question for a mere $5, or you can subscribe (at the same link) for $18, $30, or $40 for one, two, or three years. If you care at all about school reform, you simply must subscribe.]

From the opening paragraphs of this issue's "From the Editors" piece, I felt like I was reading all about me:
The small schools train has left the station. In fact, it has jumped the tracks and no one is really sure where it's headed as it picks up passengers and speeds through school districts across the country.

New York City is phasing out large high schools and planning for 200 new small schools over the next five years. Chicago is planning 100. Los Angeles is converting 130 middle and high school campuses to smaller units. New Jersey is encouraging all middle and high schools in the state's 30 poorest districts to reorganize into "small learning communities" by 2008. Similar initiatives are underway in nearly every large urban district.
Including mine. Our current superintendent has a vision of shutting down most of the comprehensive high schools in town and turning them into small-school "multiplexes." As I have noted previously, I think this is a bad idea.

It's not that small schools are bad. In fact, some of the best, most innovative, and most effective schools out there are small schools, many born from the ruins of larger, failing high schools. As the editors note, "at times, small schools have served as liberated territory, sites of progressive possibility inside a bureaucratic system that is highly resistant to change." This is a good thing, no? But they continue, expressing my own worries as if reading my mind:
In other contexts, [small schools] can cream the best students and receive unfair allocations of scarce resources while creating openings for privatization, resegregation, and union busting.

Some have raised concerns about the sketchy record of small schools when it comes to serving special education students and English language learners. Evidence in some cities, such as New York and Milwaukee, suggests that small schools are reinforcing patterns of segregation by serving a lower percentage of these students, who are then clustered in the remaining larger high schools.

Others see small schools as the new "site-based management," a structural reform that rearranges the furniture, but is largely irrelevant to the core issues of teaching and learning. Still others see small schools as a vital, but by themselves insufficient, part of a progressive reform agenda along with funding equity, antiracist/multicultural curriculum, critical teaching practice, effective school and district management and leadership, and democratic community-school partnerships.

Small school reform can contain any or all of the above elements, sometimes simultaneously. To date, the most successful small schools seem to be teacher- and community-driven efforts that take root in the cracks created by the failure of large urban systems. These bottom-up small school efforts typically have histories and school cultures quite different from the "small learning communities" created by the top-down conversion or restructuring of large comprehensive high schools. [My emphasis.]
That last bit is the primary rub in my situation: The small-schools movement here in Milwaukee, spearheaded by our superintendent and a local reform organization (founded by a guy newly-elected to our school board; additional rant here), is being done almost entirely top-down. Our superintendent almost certainly looked at the research saying that small schools had better performance and happier students and teachers, and figured that it was as good a way as any to look like he was making some kind of difference.

This has come as a great surprise to the teachers being squeezed into small schools. This is a problem, as the Rethinking Schools editors note:
[M]any of the best small schools are fueled by a passionate volunteerism among committed teachers that is both heroic and at the same time problematic as a basis for sustainable, systemic reform over the long haul. In too many other places small school reform is something that's being "done to teachers," with a profound lack of respect for their experience, needs, and conditions of work. Without greater attention to the supports needed to improve teaching and learning in classrooms and to the key role teachers must play in shaping and implementing change, small school reform cannot succeed.
What I have seen here in Milwaukee, even among staffs forced into small-school "multiplexing," the teachers taking the lead in developing the small schools are the young ones. And not young ones like me--I'm barely on the downhill side of thirty but I've got eight years of experience and a master's degree. I'm talking about first, second, third-year teachers being given a blank slate to design their small schools. I don't want to imply that all young teachers are clueless (I sure was my first couple of years, but that's a different story), but there is much more to consider when putting together a school than energy and book smarts. As we have seen in this week's Journal Sentinel series, starting a good school is quite challenging.

In other words, those in the best position to design and implement small schools are, by and large, refusing to jump through the fiery hoop. Why is that? Tomorrow, I will talk some about my own motivation for wanting to stay in a comprehensive high school, in particular the one where I currently am. But I know that other veteran teachers are resistant to the idea simply because they see the small schools fad as exactly that: the latest fad. We teachers have a philosophy that we don't throw things away, since odds are good that before you retire, every fad will come back at least once. And, given how our superintendent has thrown the district into this "reform" with barely a thought, we're not very convinced that it's anything but a fad.

Anyway, I encourage you to read the rest of the "From the Editors" piece, as it will serve as a good introduction to the rest of the posts I will do this week. I also encourage you to look at these ten "Questions to Ask About Small School Reform Plans," in particular the second question, which asks about what students will be served. And then consider this table of which schools have either been pushed to multiplexing or are likely to be targeted, versus those that are not:








Not TargetedTargeted
Bay ViewCuster
Bradley TechHamilton
JuneauMadison
KingMarshall
MHS ArtsNorth Division
PulaskiSouth Division
RiversideVincent
Washington
Now consider the same table, with one addition, a particular 2004 DPI demographic datum, and draw your own conclusions:








Not Targeted% WhiteTargeted% White
Bay View25%Custer3%
Bradley Tech20%Hamilton47%
Juneau17%Madison7%
King28%Marshall5%
MHS Arts41%North Division0.6%
Pulaski22%South Division6%
Riverside19%Vincent7%
Washington2%