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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

So much to say, so little will. So, many links.

The opening of school is taking a lot out of me; I'm doing a good 12 or 14 hours of work a day, and it's eating up my sleeping and blogging time. So I'm throwing in some linkage here instead of doing real blogging.

First of all, additional commendation to
LeftyBlogs. As you can see, the graph there on your left shows that this month was my highest-traffic month ever, even beating May when I got hundreds of hits from David Horowitz's piece of crap website. Most of the credit for this month's jump belongs to Kari Chisholm, who is doing the hard but needed work of making the left-local blogosphere more visible and more viable. I have added that site to the blogroll; and you should probably bookmark it.

While we're on the topic of hard work, Joe Thomas at Shut up and Teach did it again with a new Advocate Weekly. Speaking of which, I believe that "anon." in the comments to the post directly below this one is the first person ever to tell me to "shut up and teach." Thanks to Paul and Dean in the comments for sticking up for me when I didn't have time to blog today.

The event motivating the post below gets fuller coverage in today's paper; that is, the arbitrator's selection of the Board's contract proposal over the unions. I will add something I wrote in comments elsewhere:
There are two choices for MTEA-represented groups in MPS: The HMO, which offers a narrower choices and more limited coverage; and the PPO, which is like a blank check.

The decision means that the HMO is free, and the PPO is now expensive, with the threat of greater expense down the road (which the district can impose unilaterally).

Now, wait a minute, you might think, how is that different from the state’s plan? The state offers employees a choice between two or more plans, with one free, right?

This differs from the state’s plan in two distinct ways: One, the state’s “free” plan is free only to the extent that nothing comes out of employees’ paychecks, yet they suffer co-pays, high deductibles, etc. So in the end, there is a cost to the employees. In the MPS HMO, there is virtually no cost for in-network services. So there is no cost sharing at all.

Two, the state does not self-fund its plan, so all state employees are pooled with non-state employees to balance costs--the healthy cover the costs of the ill, and so forth. What will happen in MPS is that the healthy will jump to the plan for which they pay nothing, leaving only those who overuse health services paying anything. This will undoubtedly bankrupt the system.

Under the union’s plan, all employees would contribute, leading to a big enough pool to cover those who are ill and those who are not. Sadly, the arbitrator did not select that plan.
I'm hoping that encapsulates a little better why I fear for the future not just of my health insurance, but of the district as a whole.

Speaking of Boots and Sabers, Owen follows up on the story from the WI-8 that I wrote about here. Owen, of course, absolves John Gard of most of the charges Kerry Thomas leveled against him. But only in the "there's no evidence that this thing that looks possibly damning was actually a felony" kind of way.

I submitted a piece for the Carnival of the Badger (though I may have missed the deadline), which BBA is hosting. It will be up tomorrow.

Finally, the devestation on the Gulf Coast seems unfathomable right now. Xoff has the list of where to send help.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

792 days late, I have a contract; it's bad

About noon today, the Marquette University professor who was arbitrating the contract dispute between my union--the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association--and the MPS Board came down in favor of the Board.

I was mulling the news over on the drive home and heard the local NPR newsreader point out that the District's proposal, which the arbitrator "found more reasonable," gave teachers a raise but required them to contribute toward their health care. The way it was framed, it sounded as though the union's proposal did not have a raise or a contribution to health care. This is not true--in fact, in the initial implementation, the union's proposal required more teachers to pay in for the health care. This distinction was lost in the run-up to arbitration, and seems lost now. Even Alan Borsuk's story, linked above, neglects to mention that the competing proposals both required teachers to pay for health care. The only dispute between them was who pays and how much.

And it is in those devilsh details--who pays and how much--that the Board's plan is most insidious. It is part of a pattern designed, from my perspective, anyway, to break apart the union. I have written before about how the small high schools movement seems designed to cut out the union and balkanize formerly large, unified staffs. This decision, in favor of the Board, splits the union between younger, healthier teachers and older, less healthy teachers.

See, the union's proposal required all represented employees to pay 1% of their base salaries as co-insurance, thus minimizing the hit for the poorest employees and sharing the cost of the plan among everyone. You know, like a unified workforce. The Board's plan only jacks up payments for employees in the Preferred Provider Option (PPO) plan. Those in the HMO plan actually have their benefits sweetened. Thus, those employees who need the extra and more varied coverage the PPO provides will take the full force of this settlement. So, in fact, for the local NPR station to report that teachers will have to contribute to their health care costs is a lie: Only those who are in need of more serious care will have to pay. The healthy ones don't--and, as MPS self-funds (which in itself is probably a bad idea), the very foundation of insurance is shattered: In a normal plan, the healthy pay to offset the costs of those who are ill. Here we have the opposite.

The effect of the decision will be to drive employees into the HMO and away from the PPO, and as more teachers "pay nothing," they will more likely urge quicker settlements that leave PPO participants holding the bill. All along, I heard impatience from teachers in my building who wondered what took so long. And the division is already apparent: As I broke the news to staff today, several teachers asked me what the point of having a union is, anyway, if we're just going to get screwed. Another, when I told him the arbitrator favored the board, said, "Great! I'm in the HMO, and my life just got better!"

Jay Grenig, the arbitrator who decided the dispute, of course couldn't take any of this into account. He had very specific responsibilities defined by the state, and I'm sorry he found that the Board's proposal was a better deal. I believe that, long-run, there will be serious consequences for the union and the district as a whole.

I do have to wonder, though, if he didn't sit on his decision until today on purpose: He promised he'd be done by the end of July, but he may have known that announcing in favor of the board on July 31 would have led to hundreds of retirements during August. Today was the first day of school, and, as it is, I expect there will be some faces absent tomorrow, following this news, that had been in school today

Hey--at least I can stop saying I've been working without a contract since July 1, 2003. Now I can say that I've been working without a contract since July 1, 2005. Woo. Hoo.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Musical Flashback

Roxanne has a meme. I felt the need to do it.

Go to Music Outfitters (your Ely, MN, online music store!) and type the year you graduated from high school into the search box. The first result will be the 100 top pop songs from that year, and you can relish how awful the music was. Here's 1992:
1. End Of The Road, Boyz II Men
2. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A-lot
3. Jump, Kris Kross
4. Save The Best For Last, Vanessa Williams
5. Baby-Baby-Baby, TLC
6. Tears In Heaven, Eric Clapton
7. My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It), En Vogue
8. Under The Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers
9. All 4 Love, Color Me Badd
10. Just Another Day, Jon Secada
11. I Love Your Smile, Shanice
12. To Be With You, Mr. Big
13. I'm Too Sexy, Right Said Fred
14. Black Or White, Michael Jackson
15. Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus
16. I'll Be There, Mariah Carey
17. November Rain, Guns N' Roses
18. Life Is A Highway, Tom Cochrane
19. Remember The Time, Michael Jackson
20. Finally, CeCe Peniston
21. This Used To Be My Playground, Madonna
22. Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough, Patty Smyth
23. Can't Let Go, Mariah Carey
24. Jump Around, House Of Pain
25. Diamonds and Pearls, Prince and The N.P.G.
26. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John
27. Masterpiece, Atlantic Starr
28. If You Asked Me To, Celine Dion
29. Giving Him Something He Can Feel, En Vogue
30. Live and Learn, Joe Public
31. Come and Talk To Me, Jodeci
32. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
33. Humpin' Around, Bobby Brown
34. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins
35. Tell Me What You Want Me To Do, Teven Campbell
36. Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg, TLC
37. It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday, Boyz II Men
38. Move This, Technotronic
39. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
40. Tennessee, Arrested Development
41. The Best Things In Life Are Free, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson
42. Make It Happen, Mariah Carey
43. The One, Elton John
44. Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, P.M. Dawn
45. Stay, Shakespear's Sister
46. 2 Legit 2 Quit, Hammer
47. Please Don't Go, K.W.S.
48. Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes), Mint Condition
49. Wishing On A Star, Cover Girls
50. She's Playing Hard To Get, Hi-Five
51. I'd Die Without You, P.M. Dawn
52. Good For Me, Amy Grant
53. All I Want, Toad The Wet Sprocket
54. When A Man Loves A Woman, Michael Bolton
55. I Can't Dance, Genesis
56. Hazard, Richard Marx
57. Mysterious Ways, U2
58. Too Funky, George Michael
59. How Do You Talk To An Angel, Heights
60. One, U2
61. Keep On Walkin', CeCe Peniston
62. Hold On My Heart, Genesis
63. The Way I Feel About You, Karyn White
64. Beauty and The Beast, Calms Dion and Peabo Bryson
65. Warm It Up, Kris Kross
66. In The Closet, Michael Jackson
67. People Everyday, Arrested Development
68. No Son Of Nine, Genesis
69. Wildside, Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch
70. Do I Have To Say The Words?, Bryan Adams
71. Friday I'm In Love, Cure
72. Everything About You, Ugly Kid Joe
73. Blowing Kisses In The Wind, Paula Abdul
74. Thought I'd Died and Gone To Heaven, Bryan Adams
75. Rhythm Is A Dancer, Snap
76. Addams Groove, Hammer
77. Missing You Now, Michael Bolton
78. Back To The Hotel, N2Deep
79. Everything Changes, Kathy Troccoli
80. Have You Ever Needed Somone So Bad, Def Leppard
81. Take This Heart, Richard Marx
82. When I Look Into Your Eyes, Firehouse
83. I Wanna Love You, Jade
84. Uhh Ahh, Boyz II Men
85. Real Love, Mary J. Blige
86. Justified and Ancient, The KLF
87. Slow Motion, Color Me Badd
88. What About Your Friends, TLC
89. Thinkin' Back, Color Me Badd
90. Would I Lie To You?, Charles and Eddie
91. That's What Love Is For, Amy Grant
92. Keep Coming Back, Richard Marx
93. Free Your Mind, En Vogue
94. Keep It Comin', Keith Sweat
95. Just Take My Heart, Mr. Big
96. I Will Remember You, Amy Grant
97. We Got A Love Thang, CeCe Peniston
98. Let's Get Rocked, Def Leppard
99. They Want EFX, Das EFX
100. I Can't Make You Love Me, Bonnie Raitt
Cross out the ones you hate, bold the ones you like, and underline your favorite. Not a lot of bold there, eh? Of course, in 1992, I thought if the band didn't have "Led" or "Floyd" in the name, they weren't worth listening to.

[Update: Jed caught the same meme.]

Drinking Liberally, Milwaukee Style

For the drinkers, the liberals, or the drinking liberals in town: Details here. Thanks to Scott F., Jason H., and Stacie R. for putting this together. (I'm only using last initials since, I figure, in a couple of years, that's how we'll be referring to ourselves at the meetings . . .)

WI-8 CD: GOP eating their own

Owen at Boots and Sabers points us to this commentary from Kerry Thomas:
The impetus of this came from a “Forum in the Park” event held in St. Germain on August 23. Begun as an event to showcase Congressman Mark Green and his gubernatorial bid, the list of invited Republican speakers, candidates all, grew to include Assemblyman Dan Meyer, Attorney General candidate J.B. Van Hollen, Jean Hundertmark, candidate for Lt. Governor, and Assembly Speaker John Gard, who is now a candidate for Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District.

Notably absent from the guest list was Assemblywoman Terri McCormick, who is also a candidate for Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District. Remember, the Republican Party has an official policy of neutrality when it comes to fellow Republicans competing for elected office.

Since this event was officially sponsored by the Vilas County Republicans, of whom I am a member, and the Oneida County Republicans, I thought the omission of Terri McCormick was an oversight. I invited McCormick to come to this forum, where I assumed, since she is a congressional candidate, she would be given an opportunity to speak. I was wrong.

One by one, the speakers took to the microphone. One by one they took turns introducing themselves, and talking about Republican values. It was enlightening to hear two of the more well known speakers refer to their personal relationships with John Gard. No one bothered to say anything about Terri McCormick. She was denied any opportunity to address the assembled crowd. One of the Vilas County Republican officers said he felt “uncomfortable” allowing McCormick to speak. Slowly, the fog began to clear. [. . .]

A look at some campaign finance reports shows that during the week of the big budget debate in Madison, John Gard received two $5,000 donations from the National Beer Distributors in Arlington, Virginia. Coincidentally, the budget included provisions that will allow the distributors to sell directly to bars & restaurants, cutting out the retailers.

On May 5 Gard also received $5,000 from Georgia Pacific Employee Fund PAC in Washington, DC. As Assembly Speaker, Gard considered a bill to allow paper companies like GP to sue in a class action lawsuit against insurance companies for allegedly holding up claims for polluting (the facts proved otherwise). [. . .]

In another instance, on a crucial veto override vote of the Photo ID Bill earlier this year, Speaker Gard scheduled a vote, which had no chance of passage at that time, timed so that Terri McCormick, his probable opponent in the congressional campaign, would miss the opportunity to cast her vote for the override. She was en route to the Capitol, sick with the flu, having a colleague drive her, and missed the vote by less than an hour. If this was such a crucial vote, shouldn’t the Speaker have waited until all his colleagues were available to cast their votes? Why was it necessary to rush that vote, so that McCormick would have no chance to cast her vote? Was there a calculation that this missed vote could be used against McCormick in the campaign?

It looks to me like John Gard has blatantly abused his public office, breached the public trust placed in him. It’s a complete conflict of interest. It is the very sort of allegations that Gard’s former colleagues Scott Jensen, Micki Foti and Sherry Schultz are going to court about this Fall.
I've excerpted a lot more than I really wanted to, but the whole story is so fascinating, that at least one Republican--and maybe, maybe, a couple of elected Republicans, too--are starting to see the danger in allowing Gard (R-Peshtigo Sun Prairie) and his cronies unmitigated power.

For most of the last century, Wisconsin was championed for its clean government, its progressive and populist spirit. Now we have people in charge, from both parties, who are so concerned about entrenching their own power and enriching their campaign coffers, that the will of the people (not to mention the good of the people) gets lost in favor of grandstanding and showmanship.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

To all the New Orleanites in the audience

And anyone else in Katrina's path--

Good luck. And get out!

McBride Wrong on Apology

Jessica McBride Friday wondered why calls for Republican apologies over the way the latest fraud allegations finally shook out (see my post here) don't encompass more than Republicans. McBride writes, about the family in question,
shouldn't the Journal Sentinel apologize to the family too? After all, the Republican Party and the politicians DID NOT release the names of the couple or their son, either to the news media OR to the public. The newspaper did. Granted, the Party staged its news conference in front of the family's home, which vicariously identified them to the reporters there or anyone who recognized the home from a glimpse of it on TV. But the paper was under no obligation to print the couple's names, or the name of their son, which the paper learned on its own from city records. Yet the paper did so - both in the original story and again in the editorial, the latter of which accused the Party of besmirching the family's names. But who would have known the names if the paper hadn't outed them?
Damn the newspaper for their reporting! Blast those editors and reporters who saw a trail of news and followed it! Curse those smart people who made a two-minute phone call that Republicans couldn't be bothered with!

When you consider that one of the family members actually told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter "It's a good thing I wasn't home. It's amazing how much nerve these people have," you have to wonder whether, in fact, the family wanted the information out there that the Republicans were lying scum. I sort of wish they hadn't snuck in when the family wasn't home, just for the sight of someone tearing out of the house with a rolling pin to beat Rick Graber with. (Note: I don't know if the family told reporter Greg Borowski that or not.)

In the end, I think it's important to remember that Jessica McBride lives with Paul Bucher, candidate for Attorney General, who insists that it is important to stop voter fraud, "real or imagined."

Randomness is fundamental; fundamentalists, not so much

At Doc's Home, Doc ("an evangelical Christian by faith and a physicist by education") nails the Intelligent Design/ Creationist faction to the wall again with this post from yesterday. If you remember my ID essay from the soon-to-expire Open Source Politics, ID is not actually science; it's much more about phiosophy and statistics. One of its central legs is the idea of specified complexity: This is the idea, formulated by mathematician William A. Dembski, using probability and the general public's misunderstanding of probability, to argue that random chance is not enough to explain how changes in organisms can develop over time. Dembski believes that while "[j]ust about anything that happens is highly improbable, [. . .] when a highly improbable event is also specified (i.e., conforms to an independently given pattern) undirected natural causes lose their explanatory power."

Anyway, Doc tears that notion apart:
[T]he basic issue is randomness. Evolution suggests life evolved through a series of random mutations in simpler organisms. Randomness suggests, well, randomness, whereas creation suggests order and method. Hence, the two are inexorably opposed, right?

I am glad these anti-evolutionists have not apparently studied modern physics. Randomness is the cornerstone of quantum mechanics, which is founded on the assumption that nature works through probabilism, not determinism. Here's the idea. In classical physics, all the way back to the Greeks, nature was assumed deterministic. That means if I repeat an experiment 1000 times under the same conditions, the exact same result will emerge 1000 times. If I know the initial conditions and the forces involved, I know exactly what will happen. Probabilism, on the other hand, says I have no idea what will happen each time I run the experiment. There are any number of possible outcomes, each with a certain probability of happening. The best I can say is how often I would expect to see some given outcome.

This is necessarily abstract and hard to understand if you haven't studied physics. I will try to illustrate. If I pick up a pencil and let it go, it will fall due to gravity. In a deterministic universe, all I need to know is the height of the pencil to determine exactly what will happen. I can calculate exactly how long it will take to hit the ground, and the speed at which it will be moving when it does hit. More importantly, I can calculate the exactly trajectory of that pencil, marking its exact position at every moment during the fall. And if I do the experiment 1000 times, I will get the exact same results.

In the quantum realm, it is much more complex. I have to consider the straight line path, yes. But I have to consider a trajectory with a single loop, one with two loops, one where it makes a 90 turn, etc. (This sounds weird, I know. At the size scale we are talking about, the probability of each of these paths is 0, except the straight line path, which is why we don't worry about quantum effects in our everyday world. But a proper quantum solution would have to consider all these. The example illustrates the process involved in understanding interactions at much smaller size scales where quantum effects do matter.) Each trajectory has a probability, so repeating the experiment 1000 times, I can estimate how often I would expect to see each path. The same thing will not necessarily happen each time. (Quantum also has the uncertainty principle which says I cannot know the position and momentum of the pencil simultaneously, and other fun effects.) [. . .]

It is crucial to understand that this probabilism is a fundamental property of nature, not some mathematical tool. [. . .] In quantum we give up trying to understand the motion of a single electron around a nucleus because it is fundamentally not possible to understand that motion. The uncertainty principle tells us that the better we know the momentum of an electron, the less we know its position, and vice versa. Even attempting to make a measurement changes the state of what we're measuring.

I don't know how many people have made it this far but I'll press on with the point I'm trying to make. It seems to me that at the core of intelligent design is a resistance to the notion of randomness. The ID supporters want to remove the random mutations of evolution with a more orderly process guided by a designer. This is very similar to the debate in the physics community in the early 20th century when quantum physics began taking hold. Many physicists rejected quantum for exactly the same reason. Einstein and Niels Bohr had a celebrated exchange of letters arguing this philosophical point, with Einstein making the famous comment, "God does not play dice with the universe."

Randomness is not simply an element of evolution. It is a fundamental property of nature. To resist evolution because it is makes use of random processes is to also resist all of modern physics.
I am also glad that I have not studied modern physics, as this sounds far more complicated than my sad little right-brained head can handle. But it precisely this kind of problem--the truth is complicated and lies can be so simple--that gives Intelligent Design such great purchase in our society. I'm glad that folks nominally on their side, like Doc, have the patience and good will to explain it to them.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A couple of print stories

One, the follow-up to yesterday's military recruitment post. MPS did pass a modest policy designed to increase parental awareness of opt-out options.

Two, Xoff's Bill Christofferson writes a good summary in this week's Shepherd about how "Pro-Life" Wisconsin has crossed an ugly line:
An extremist “pro-life” group, not content with opposing abortion, birth control and stem cell research, has attacked the family and caregivers of a Wisconsin Marine, critically wounded in Iraq, for following his express directions and allowing him to die.

The Marine, Staff Sgt. Chad Simon of Monona, suffered a severe brain injury in November when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee, injuring Simon and killing three other Marines from his Madison-based Reserve unit. Surgeons removed two-thirds of Simon’s skull. He never regained consciousness.

He died nine months later, on Aug. 4, at a HospiceCare facility in Madison, after his family, following his wishes, disconnected his feeding tube. “He did have a living will, and it was very explicit. There was nothing to question,” said the Rev. Jeff Mannel, pastor at Madison Church of Christ, and a close family friend.

Jack Schuster, the family’s attorney, said Chad’s wife, Regina, made the decision after much soul-searching and with a judge’s approval.

While the family seemed to be at peace with carrying out Chad’s wishes, others who didn’t know the Marine weren’t happy with the family’s decision.

Pro-Life Wisconsin, which calls itself “your 100% pro-life voice,” accused HospiceCare of murder.
Read the rest.

Friday Random Ten

The Last Friday of Summer Edition

1. "All That Hammering" John Gorka from Temporary Road
2. "Last Night of the World" Bruce Cockburn from Anything Anytime Anywhere
3. "Pablo's Lights" Vance Gilbert from Somerville Live
4. "Soldier After All" John Gorka from Old Futures Gone
5. "Killing the Blues" Chris Smither from Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop
6. "Get a Little" G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band from Get a Little
7. "The Other Side" Don Conoscenti from Paradox of Grace
8. "The River, Where She Sleeps" Darryl Purpose from A Crooked Line
9. "Time Brings" Great Big Sea from Great Big Sea
10. "Crowded in the Wings" The Jayhawks from Hollywood Town Hall

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Moderation in Recruiting High Schoolers "Unpatriotic"

One of the more insidious but lesser-known provisions of ESEA 2001 (AKA NCLB) is that schools must provide the name, home address, phone number, and other personal identifying data to military recruiters, unless parents specifically opt out of it. In addition, military recruiters have virtually unfettered access to high schools. Some days at the high school where I teach it's like a scene from A Few Good Men, all the uniforms stalking the hallways and pacing the cafeteria.

But my district, the Milwaukee Public Schools, may be taking a step to preserve students' privacy:
The effort, led by board member Peter Blewett and backed by some students and parents, puts Milwaukee among a growing number of cities where opponents of the war in Iraq have targeted provisions of federal law that were little-noted until recently. [. . .]

As a result [of the law], recruiters visit high schools frequently, often setting up tables in cafeterias or making presentations to groups of students. Around age 17, teenagers receive frequent mailings from all branches of the military and may be contacted directly by recruiters.

MPS officials estimate that "opt-out" forms are filed for less than 1% of students. The percentage in other school districts in Wisconsin is believed to be in the same ballpark. [. . .]

A Milwaukee School Board committee spent more than two hours Tuesday night debating changes proposed by Blewett, which would restrict military recruiters to three visits a year at high schools and aggressively seek to make parents aware of how to keep student information from going to recruiters.

The committee passed a milder proposal that calls for increased efforts to inform parents of the opt-out rules while awaiting legal advice on what limits can be set for recruiters in schools.
This modest reform--which does nothing to limit access to students by military folk--has been identified by the bad half of the Cheddarsphere as unpatriotic and an attempt by "anti-war zealots" to "deny a future" to MPS students.

From where I sit--my futon, literally, but think metaphorically--this measure by MPS is a way to preserve students' privacy. The information that we are required to hand over to the military is information that, if we gave it to just about anybody else, we'd get sued under FERPA. Even if we accidentally left confidential student contact info in the fax machine at Kinko's, we'd be screwed. Yet we have to hand over the info to the military so that their sagging recruitment numbers can look better.

My students by and large are not stupid: They tell me (without my saying a word) that they hate Bush and his war in Iraq. They know that Republicans haven't done much for African Americans in general and urban African Americans in particular. A handful of seniors every year choose the military, but the vast majority--I'd say upwards of 98%--decide for themselves that fighting Bush's war is not the future for them.

Carnival of the Badger

The second weekly installment of a tour of the Cheddarsphere is up at Wigderson's place. I'm in there somewhere.

You just know it was Republicans

Not for this part (since it's obvious Fox News is Republican):
In what Fox News officials concede was a mistake, John Loftus, a former U.S. prosecutor, gave out the address Aug. 7, saying it was the home of a Middle Eastern man, Iyad K. Hilal, who was the leader of a terrorist group with ties to those responsible for the July 7 bombings in London.

Hilal, whom Loftus identified by name during the broadcast, moved out of the house about three years ago. But the consequences were immediate for the Voricks.

Satellite photos of the house and directions to the residence were posted online. The Voricks told police, who arranged for the content to be taken down. Someone even removed the street sign where the Voricks live to provide some protection.
But for this part:
Last weekend, someone spray-painted "Terrist" on their home.

They could have called it, "Walker Drowns Kittens"

But "Walker looks at cuts in health care for poor" works almost as well, since it is time to draw attention to the real problem.

That problem is, of course, that suburbanite Walker seldom misses the chance to balance the County budget on the backs of the poor black folk in Milwaukee. It's a consistent theme of his, from cutting bus service (watch for more cuts--and a drastic jump in fares from high gas prices) and threatening to cut mental health services to closing public pools that serve those without air conditioning, Scott Walker never met a program targeting poor minorities that he didn't want to cut. Reminds me of his bluster during the last campaign about how his "truth in sentencing" bill kept criminals off the street--though he didn't say the "black" part out loud.

's gonna be a long, long campaign for governor, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The alma mater strikes again

You know it's August: The yellow jackets are back, your humble host is losing sleep pending the start of the school year, there's no good network TV, and my (and Stacie's) alma mater, Beloit College has released its "Mindset List":
Each August, as students start to arrive, Beloit College releases the Beloit College Mindset List, which offers a world view of today's entering college students. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride [I know him!] and Director of Public Affairs Ron Nief.

McBride, who directs Beloit’s First Year Initiatives (FYI) program for entering students, notes that "This year’s entering students have grown up in a country where the main business has become business, and where terrorism, from obscure beginnings, has built up slowly but surely to become the threat it is today. Cable channels have become as mainstream as the 'Big 3' used to be, formality in dress has become more quaint than ever, and Aretha Franklin, Kermit the Frog and Jimmy Carter have become old-timers." [. . .]

The list is distributed to faculty on campus during the New Students Days orientation. According to McBride, “It is an important reminder, as faculty start to show signs of ‘hardening of the references,’ that we think about the touchstones and benchmarks of a generation that has grown up with CNN, home computers, AIDS awareness, digital cameras and the Bush political dynasty. We should also keep in mind that these students missed out on the pleasures of being tossed in the back of a station wagon with a bunch of friends and told to keep the noise down, walking in the woods without fearing Lyme Disease, or setting out to try all of the 28 ice cream flavors at Howard Johnson’s.”

According to Nief, “This is not serious in-depth research. It is meant to be thought-provoking and fun, yet accurate. It is as relevant as possible, given the broad social and geographic diversity of our students, who are drawn from every state and 50 countries. It is always open to challenge, which has an additional benefit in that it reminds us of students’ varied backgrounds. It is still a good reflection of the attitudes and experiences of the young people that we must be aware of from the first day of their college experience.”
Last year, I actually had a chance to call in to Ben Merens's public raido show (Ben was on vacation, though) and share my recollection with Beloit professor and ex-husband of the state senator Art Robson, since I was at Beloit when the first mindset list was released. Now it's all very formal and even comes with a little ®. And, as usual, it's a bizarre collection of things that supposedly identify this post-millenial generation.

I won't reprint the whole thing (the ® may will mean a lawsuit!), but here are a few favorites:

1. Andy Warhol, Liberace, Jackie Gleason, and Lee Marvin have always been dead.
14. Car stereos have always rivaled home component systems.
18. The federal budget has always been more than a trillion dollars.
26. Dirty dancing has always been acceptable.
32. Judicial appointments routinely have been "Borked."
53. They do not remember "a kinder and gentler nation."
75. They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

In a couple of weeks, I will be turning 29 for the third time. (I like my shirts roomy, hint hint). I am so old.

Some Wednesday Links

Barbara O'Brien is back from vacation. As usual, she's the smartest person on the internet.

Joe from Shut Up and Teach! has once again done yeoman's work on an Advocate Weekly. I always shine a little bit when I get called a "must-read."


I was remiss in not noting the inaugural "Carnival of the Badger" last week. These "carnivals" are a conservative tradition, of which I don't partake. However, I did submit one for this week's, which will run here.

One Last Thing About Fraud

The conservative Cheddarsphere is all exercised about this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial (see Owen, for example) calling for the state Republican party to apologize to the people they publicly smeared when they claimed that nine people double voted, casting ballots in Milwaukee and either Chicago, Madison, or Minneapolis. They did it standing in front of an East-Side home--when the residents were out--and used the occasion to mark the third time they sent a voter-ID bill to be vetoed by J-Dizzle.

The complaints are that somehow the MJS editorial somehow mimics Democratic party talking points. Let's see: For months, the MJS says voter ID won't solve the problems, and today they repeat that. In the original story covering the big "fraud" announcement, you could hear the skepticism:
While the party did not release names or addresses, the city lists three voters at the house where the news conference took place: Stuart and Gayle Schenk and their son Joseph, who moved to Chicago last August.

Both Stuart and Gayle Schenk said Joseph did not vote in Milwaukee or request an absentee ballot here. Gayle Schenk said her son is in Chicago studying to join the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church.
The GOP needed two minutes to make a phone call, and they could have avoided the awkward situation of accusing a brother-to-be of a felony. So the once-skeptical newspaper now asks for the courtesy of an apology. Moreso, the GOP chose a bad example to try to make the case for voter ID, as I noted at the time, and the MJS said so too, in a way that is completely consistent with their editorial policy since time immemorial. The editors are still being kind, because they have yet to nail GOP chair Rick Graber for his admission that voter ID is not a full solution.

So, three for three, the MJS is either holding consistent to old positions or making a common-sense call for an apology over a completely avoidable besmirching of a young man's character. That Joe Wineke also called for an apology (.pdf) is not evidence of a conspiracy; calling it so speaks only to the deafness of conservative bloggers to how out of touch their Republican party is.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I'm finally getting all Tigerfied

I finally managed to wrangle a Tiger--OSX 10.4--and I'll be upgrading from Jaguar (!) shortly. If you never hear from me again, it means something went horribly wrong.

[UPDATE: Seems to be working so far. I'm all in one piece.]

TABOR strangling Colorado, despite recovering economy

The conservatives in the audience will be pleased that the beast is starving:
Colorado expects to spend less than 1 percent more on government services this fiscal year than last, while nationwide, spending growth will be almost 6 percent, a new study shows.

The numbers are evidence that Colorado is hamstrung by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, unable to recover from the recession like other states, say some analysts [. . .].

The numbers in the preliminary report on state budgets and tax actions, presented to lawmakers from all 50 states on Wednesday, show that most states collected tax revenues this year at a rate of about 5 or 6 percent above last year's rate. Next year's collections won't be up as much, about 3 percent, but spending on government programs is expected to rise 5.7 percent.

Colorado's economy also has improved, which translates into a projected 7 percent increase in tax revenues. But because TABOR limits how fast government can grow, most of those additional tax revenues will be returned to taxpayers or special-interest groups. [. . .]

Higher education will get a 1.5 percent bump in Colorado, compared with the national average of 7 percent. K-12 education is expected to grow by 3 percent overall, compared with the national average of 6 percent.

Henry Sobanet, director of Colorado's Office of State Planning and Budget, said the numbers show that other states are able to take advantage of the economic recovery better than Colorado can.

Colorado's TABOR caps "will not allow the budget to recover," said Sobanet, whose boss, [Republican!] Gov. Bill Owens, backs the referendums. There is a misconception in Colorado that "because the economy is coming back fine, the state government must be as well," Sobanet said.

But Colorado had to cut spending by tens of millions of dollars during the recession years, and because of TABOR, can't ratchet back up from those lowered numbers, he said. "Next year, we expect to be refunding money while simultaneously cutting programs," he said.
I started writing this post this morning, but after several nights of below-average sleep, I couldn't muster anything like coherent outrage.

Frankly, I still can't. It boggles my mind that some people want this for Wisconsin.

Now, I am not the kind of liberal who believes in spending for the sake of spending (come to think of it, I don't personally know any of that liberal), but the situation in Colorado demonstrates why artificial controls on spending under laws like the misnamed "taxpayer bill of rights" (TABOR) are a bad idea. In times of economic growth, such as the nation is seeing to an extent right now, states need the flexibility to use the higher tax revenue to shore up the budget and programs that lose out in lean years. What makes Colorado's position worse is that inflation is running considerably higher than they allowable increase in spending, which puts them in the awkward position of having to keep trimming despite the capacity to maintain present progam levels without overburdening taxpayers.

Anyway, if you have outrage, feel free to share it in the comments. I'm plum out.

Monday, August 22, 2005

"Voter Fraud" not actually . . . fraud

The U.S. Attorney released his findings on the nine supposed cases of double-voting in Milwaukee last November, which turned out not to be fraud at all. I was going to link to the story, but Xoff beat me to it and even pulled out the most salient paragraphs. So I defer to him.

Interview with Our Man Russ™

Key quote:
We were way ahead on domestic issues, but the Democratic Party and Democratic leaders decided to take a pass on the Iraq war.  They decided to defer to the President, and I have to tell you many Democratic leaders knew better.  This was a bad idea, but they allowed the Bush administration to brilliantly intimidate them into not standing up and saying this doesn't fit in with the fight against Al Qaeda and the terrorists that attacked this country on 9/11.  Of course, I didn't buy into this and I voted no, but I was even in the minority among Democrats in the Senate.  And now were making the same mistake, now that it's clear that the administration took us into Iraq under false premises.  We have a situation where they are doing a terrible job managing this war.  They are doing a terrible job of having a plan to win the war and win the peace.  Yet, Democrats are allowing the President to set the terms of the debate.  If somebody says "what about a plan to bring the troops home", the President labels it cut and run.  Democrats have become silent, so I do think perhaps that we have allowed this to become a taboo.  My purpose this week is to break that taboo, let other Democrats know it's safe to go in the water.  It's safe to talk about how we can succeed and bring our troops home.  Why shouldn't we Democrats be talking about that?
Go read the whole thing.

Connecticut sues over NCLB

Connecticut today became the first bold state to sue the federal government over the outrageous testing requirements contained in the No Child Left Behind provisions (NCLB) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Authorization Act of 2001 (ESEA). From the AP:
The lawsuit argues the law is illegal because it requires expensive standardized tests and other school programs it doesn't pay for. It asks a federal judge to declare that state and local money can't be used to meet the law's goals.

"Our message today is give up the unfunded mandates, or give us the money," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

The legal action is the latest chapter in a heated fight between Connecticut and the federal government over standardized testing.

Connecticut currently tests students in grades four, six and eight. But, under No Child Left Behind, the state is required to start testing children in grades three, five and seven this school year.

State education officials say that they already know that minority and poor children don't perform as well as their wealthy, white peers, and that additional tests aren't going to tell them more.

The federal government cites annual testing is a cornerstone of the law, and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has repeatedly denied requests from the state for more flexibility.
There are two main thrusts to the testing provisions of NCLB: One, they are used as a yardstick, if you will, to judge the performance of students against each individual state's standards. Each state long before NCLB fell prey to the "standards" movement and developed academic benchmarks for students in all subject areas. As I am not from Connecticut, I cannot speak with much authority about their standards. But I do know Wisconsin's standards pretty well, and they are thorough. A student who scores "proficient" or higher has truly done well.

The second function of the NCLB testing regime is to act as a device for figuring out which schools are failing which students. After a state develops its standards, writes tests to measure them, and administers the tests to students, the data collected are disaggregated for every measurable sub-category of student you can imagine. Each school gets back its test results broken down by sex, economic status, English language fluency, special needs status, and race. Every school must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in all subject areas and in all measurable subgroups. (What makes a subgroup measurable varies by state; in Wisconsin, for example, in any school, a group with fewer than 40 students is not reported separately.) Schools that do not make AYP are placed on a list of Schools Identified for Improvement (SIFI), and depending on how long a school has been on the list, various punishments are laden on the schools, up to and including reconstitution. By 2014, all measurable sub-categories--including special education students and non-native English speakers--must show 95% proficiency for a school not to be SIFI.

The resoning behind all of this is twofold, and, in a very real way, makes a lot of sense. One, it is important for parents to know both how well their children are doing in terms of meeting state standards. This used to be conveyed through such arcane methods as parent-teacher conferences, report cards, and news that children had been promoted to the next grade. This is no longer enough; test results are the preferred method for distributing this information now. Second, it is important for states, districts, schools, and parents to know in what ways schools are failing which students. These days you hear a lot about the "achievement gap": We have known this gap--high achievement by wealthy and/or white students compared to low achievement for poor and/or minority students--has been highly visible for decades through such things as SAT resuls, graduation rates, and anecdotal evidence provided by pioneering education researchers such as Jonathon Kozol. However, this gap becomes more and more apparent the more we make available disaggregated testing data--and, therefore, the more we test students.

So this testing regime does exist for a reason that is not solely to drive public schools into the ground, though the way the feds have chosen to implement it, you wouldn't know. The regime of testing is so time-consuming that it is crowding out funding for the arts and physical education. The need for impossibly high levels of proficiency are driving the rest of the budget into skill and drill exercises for students. And the testing itself is absurdly expensive, which makes the Fed's claims that "the funds have been provided for testing" surreally idiotic:
The federal government is providing Connecticut with $5.8 million this fiscal year to pay for the testing, [Connecticut Education Commissioner Betty] Sternberg said.

She estimates federal funds will fall $41.6 million short of paying for staffing, program development, standardized tests and other costs associated with implementing the law through 2008.
The question NCLB advocates need to answer is whether or not the significant annual cost of this extensive testing regime is worth it for the data that we collect. I mean, don't we already know there's an achievement gap? Isn't the infusion of states' standards into classrooms a good start, with alternate-year testing a fine measure? Wouldn't it be wiser to use $40 million per state for professional development or to recruit the best and brightest college graduates to teach at the worst-performing schools? Okay, so that's more than one question, and, I know, the answers are not multiple-choice. But how the administration and states all over the country handle the implementation of No Child Left Behind is probably the toughest test we face.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Who's really mainstream on Iraq?

The big editorial in the paper this morning is labeled, It's time to plan an exit from Iraq.

Call me silly, stupid, ignorant, or a lily-livered peacenik, but shouldn't the "exit" from Iraq have been "planned" back in early 2003 before we started a war there?

While I'm not surprised that the editorial board--or, in fact, the Bush administration--is running two-and-a-half years behind, I am surprised that it has taken so long for otherwise smart politicians to recognize that the hole we are digging over there is getting deeper and deeper. The editorial mentions a few:
Republicans, too, are beginning to worry about the impact of the war on the 2006 elections. One Maryland Republican, Rep. Wayne Gilchrist, who at first supported the war but who has since turned against it, told The New York Times he had encountered "a lot of Republicans grousing about the situation as a whole and how they have to respond to a lot of questions back home." Even such stalwart Republicans as [decorated Vietnam veteran] Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones Jr. have broken ranks with the president on the war.
These men here seem to be reflecting a considerable consensus among the population at large: The numbers at pollingreport.com tell a story. Many of those who supported the war initially now agree that it was "a mistake" or "not worth it."

I was amused to see some of the misguided critics of Cindy Sheehan, for example, complaining that she had changed her mind about Iraq. They dug up out-of-context quotes to show supposed support for Bush and the war effort and contrasted those with her current stance. Even if this were true, that Cindy Sheehan had flip-flopped in her opinion, Sheehan reflected that shift in a growing number of regular Americans. If you keep reading down the pollingreport.com page, you'll find that 56% of people want some or all of our troops to be withdrawn from Iraq now. When Republicans or conservative commentators suggest that Sheehan or my guy Russ Feingold is out of the mainstream for wanting the US out of Iraq or suggesting that things are not going well, they are lying. Feingold may have been outside of mainstream thought when he voted against the Iraq war resolution, but a majority of Americans have now come around to his position. When it comes to opinions on Iraq, Russ Feingold is the mainstream. Cindy Sheehan is the mainstream. George Bush and those who support him unconditionally are the extremists.

Let's face facts, here: As more and more Americans also realize that the U.S. seems perfectly happy to let the Iraqis write fundamentalist Islam into the constitution--which obviates rights for women and non-Muslims that, ironically, Iraqis enjoyed under Saddam Hussein--I think even more will jump from the Bush ship. As conservative pundit Andy McCarthy wrote this morning:
For what it’s worth, this is where I get off the bus. The principal mission of the so-called “war on terror” – which is actually a war on militant Islam – is to destroy the capacity of the international network of jihadists to project power in a way that threatens American national security. That is the mission that the American people continue to support.

As those who follow these pages may know, I have been despairing for a long time over the fact that the principal mission has been subordinated by what I’ve called the “democracy diversion” – the administration’s theory that the (highly dubious) prospect of democratizing Iraq and the Islamic world will quell the Islamists. [. . .] Now, if several reports this weekend are accurate, we see the shocking ultimate destination of the democracy diversion. In the desperation to complete an Iraqi constitution – which can be spun as a major step of progress on the march toward democratic nirvana – the United States of America is pressuring competing factions to accept the supremacy of Islam and the fundamental principle no law may contradict Islamic principles.

[. . . T]he American people were never asked whether they would commit their forces to overseas hostilities for the purpose of turning Iraq into a democracy (we committed them (a) to topple a terror-abetting tyrant who was credibly thought both to have and to covet weapons of mass destruction, and (b) to kill or capture jihadists who posed a danger to American national security). I doubt they would have agreed to wage war for the purpose of establishing democracy. Like most Americans, I would like to see Iraq be an authentic democracy – just as I would like to see Iran, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, etc. be authentic democracies. But I would not sacrifice American lives to make it so.

But even if I suspended disbelief for a moment and agreed that the democracy project is a worthy casus belli, I am as certain as I am that I am breathing that the American people would not put their brave young men and women in harm’s way for the purpose of establishing an Islamic government. Anyplace. [. . .] And if the United States, in contradiction of its own bedrock principle against government establishment religion, has decided to go into the theocracy business, how in the world is it that Islam is the religion we picked?
Of course, Bush and his supporters will trumpet the completed constitution, no matter how ignoble, as a great victory. The warbloggers will be satisfied, the media enablers of this war will feel justified, and Bush will smirk like he's never smirked before. But the American people will remain displeased--it is not worth 2000 lives and $200 billion to establish extremist Sharia law in yet another Muslim country. (Bilmon is also worth a read on this issue.)

I guess while it's nice to see the state's largest daily paper stepping into the mainstream on this issue (and I am sure the conservative half of the Cheddarsphere will roundly abuse them for it), it is a little bit too late. They blew a golden opportunity to be opinion leaders on the issue, rather than followers. In fact, the whole impetus for the editorial seems to be Russ Feingold's steps this week to remind Democratic presidential primary voters that he has always had a spine on the Iraq war issue. It's kind of sad, really, that that is what has embarassed them into saying that now is the time to plan an exit, rather than, say, the repeated bungling of the conflict since May 2003.

Unless something drastic changes--like fundamentalis Islam being dropped from the Iraqi constitution and the casualty rate dropping to nil--Bush's legacy will be his miserable failure in Iraq. The Bush Doctrine--remember that? It was a big deal not that long ago--is dead. The mainstream now sees Iraq for what it is: A deadly, expensive mistake.

Milwaukee's murders, close to home edition

Numbers 85, 86, and 87 were just a couple of blocks away.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Former Harambee Finance Chief Convicted

Yesterday, the former chief financial officer of the Harambee choice school was convicted of embezzling up to three-quarters of a million dollars of taxpayer money:
Cleveland Lee, 55, was found guilty of two counts of theft, 10 counts of forgery and three counts of filing false income tax returns, party to a crime, after a four-day jury trial that began Monday. [. . .]

The charges came after a two-year investigation of Lee's work at the school by the Milwaukee County district attorney's office. Lee left the school in 2002 and was arrested in January in Houston.

According to the criminal complaint, between 1998 and 2002, Lee diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars into two accounts, labeled hot lunch and day care, and then wrote checks from those accounts to himself, to businesses he controlled or to others - including a contractor who did remodeling on Lee's house.

In February, Lee pleaded not guilty after a judge ruled he should stand trial.
This is the sort of thing that may very well be less likely under the new permanent rules that increase the level of oversight DPI has over the financial dealings of these schools. But this case also points out one clear difference between the Milwaukee Public Schools and the often murky finances of voucher schools. There are many layers of oversight for every school's budget; in fact, I just went through the audit process for a program I oversee. And believe me, they are thorough. While I know some people probably hope that they can enrich themselves as a public school employee--and I have seen some questionable things--there is very little actual fraud going on.

Harambee school itself has been troubled of late, even without this guy. I noted it a few months back. That is a shame, since a decade ago it was a model for what a non-secular private community school could be.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday Random Ten

The No Tornadoes Here Edition. It didn't even rain very hard.

1. "Brand New Companion" Townes Van Zandt from Live at the Old Quarter
2. "Sebastian's Girl" The Common Faces from Real Life
3. "Be Here Now" Willy Porter from Dog Eared Dream
4. "Don't Talk to Her at Night" Marc Cohn from The Rainy Season
5. "River" Natalie Merchant from Tigerlilly
6. "Help" Martin Sexton from Live at the Gathering of the Vibes 2004
7. "January Rain" David Gray from Lost Songs
8. "Altoona Waltz" Michael Smith from Time
9. "No One Here But Me" Susan Werner from Time Between Trains
10. "I'll Go Too" Carrie Newcomer from The Gathering of Spirits

You can set your watch to it

The paper this morning has a rerun of its regular "lift the cap" editorial. Whine, whine, whine.

I have one question: If we lift the cap on voucher school participants, where will these new students go? Into established, accredited, quality schools, or into one of the many fly-by-night operations that start up every year? Hm? There's an analogy somewhere about frying pans and fires.

Anyway, I renew the call I made yesterday, for someone in the legislature to introduce a bill requiring accreditation of voucher schools and a history of independent operation without the aid of my tax dollars. When these two commonsense provisions become law, then we can talk about finding places for additional students in the program.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Eek. Time to unplug.


The red boxes are the tornado warnings. My house is at the bottom of the circle around Milwaukee. Our county will turn red any minute now, since the red boxes have been following the storm across the state . . .

Let us hope that all our blogging brothers and sisters between here and Madison are all okay.

Super Superintendent!

Here is the full text of an email that found its way to my inbox:
TO: All Legislators
FROM: Senator Alberta Darling, Senator Ted Kanavas
DATE: August 10, 2005
RE: Co-Sponsorship of LRB 2442/1 relating to the employment contract and powers of the superintendent of a 1st class city school district

Recent non-partisan news and education reports indicate MPS is showing marked improvement in many areas.  Graduation rates have increased.  Attendance rates, drop out rates, and test scores are slowly creeping up.  Administrative proposals to cut the central office budget, the number of teaching positions and the number of school buildings now better reflect the district's current student population, which continues to shrink after years of declining enrollment and increasing competition.

However, there are many potential future ideas for both budget and inside-the-classroom improvement and reform that must be considered.  we believe the current superintendent has some significant, reform-minded proposals that ultimately will not be implemented, in part because of the outside pressures put on the school board to block them.   Over the years, the constant shifting of the board's leadership and make-up has led to the constant shifting of the board's agenda, goals and reform beliefs.  It remains increasingly frustrating that a school board with an ever-changing political view can derail months if not years of a superintendent's efforts.

As state policy makers, we can and should provide help to the MPS superintendents that are able to demonstrate fiscal accountability to the taxpayers, and a commitment to helping the children and parents they serve.

In many areas, MPS dministration could make immediate improvements that would benefit both the students and the taxpayers if this bill were to become law.

We propose to:

1) Give the MPS superintendent 2/3rds veto power over the annual budget as well as final authority over all financial, purchasing and contractual school board decisions.

We believe the MPS superintendent should have the same power to formulate the district's annual budget as the Milwaukee mayor and the Milwaukee County executive.   Too many times, we have seen problems arise and stalemates occur when the teacher's union or an opposition school board try to "wait out" a reform-minded superintendent.

2) Require the MPS board offer a longer contract to their superintendents (three years instead of two).

The loudest complaints heard by staff and parents is the lack of a consistent, strong, vocal leader for MPS.  Change takes time and it takes political clout.  A longer contract would lead to more stable leadership.  The leader of such a large organization, with a billion dolllar annual budget, should be given more time to implement his ideas, and more time to judge the success or failure of each proposal.

If you are interested in co-sponsoring this bill, please contact Senator Darling (6-5830) by the deadline date of Monday, August 22nd.

Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
Under current law, the term of each employment contract of a school district superintendent may not exceed two years. This bill requires that the employment contract of the superintendent of schools in a first class city school district (currently, only the Milwaukee Public Schools) be for a term of at least three years. The bill also authorizes the first class city school district superintendent to veto any action taken by the school board and requires a two-thirds vote of the members of the school board to override the superintendent's veto.
I am not entirely sure where to start with this. For one, this is a real bill. A contact at the Capitol got me a copy (.pdf form, or I'd post it) of the Legilsative Research Bureau's mark-up of it. Darling's email seems to be an accurate retelling in layman's terms of the legalese presented in the bill. Let me limit comments to three things right now:
  1. Once again, we have non-Milwaukeeans (Alberta Darling and Ted Kanavas represent mostly suburban Milwaukee--Darling's district includes like a block-and-a-half on the East Side, which voted heavily against her, 71-29) writing laws that would affect only Milwaukee. I will bet you a nickel that not one single elected official who represents Milwaukee signs on as a co-sponsor. My question is this: Where do they get off doing this? If "the parents" are complaining about things, "the parents" have every right contact their own damned legislators and school board members, demand action, run for elected office themselves. Ms. River Hills and Mr. Brookfield don't have to step in and baby us. If they don't like what's happening in Milwaukee, they don't live there and have no right to complain!
  2. There is a possibility that Darling is doing this to get back at Jennifer Morales. Morales, if you recall, is the Milwaukee school board member who happens to live in that block-and-a-half on the East Side that is stuck in Darling's district, and who ran against Darling in 2004. Morales, like me, is not a big fan of the current superintendent. This bill would significantly weaken the board in general and, specifically, any minority coallitions on the board. Could this actually be a giant middle finger at the woman who made that race closer than expected?
  3. "Reform-minded" is quite the misnomer. Our current superintendent used to be a middle school principal, and he's running this 100,000-student, 10,000-employee district as if it were just one big middle school. He has surrounded himself with yes-men and -women who do whatever he asks, however idiotic. He's still pushing his small-school agenda, which I have written about at length and won't repeat here, with uncritical acceptance from virtually everyone in a position to ask pointed questions about the plan's problems. And there's more, which I won't go into, except to point you here, where I ranted about the "reform" label before.

    While I agree with the sentiment that MPS superintendents should have significantly longer tenure than they often do, this is not something that should be done by state law, but rather by efforts of the board to hire someone in the first place willing to stick around and do the job. I kind of liked the previous guy, Spence Korté, who had a real plan to address our shrinking enrollment, a plan largely forgotten since the board bought out Korté's contract early. The current guy's plan to address our shrinking enrollment is to pull school closures out of his behind and present them to the board like a kid who found a pretty rock. Oh, and then spend millions on consultants to do the real work for him. That's not actually, you know, leadership. That's childishness.

    And the current guy has lacked leadership in almost everything else he has done, largely because he doesn't seem to acknowledge that there's anyone besides his inner circle that he needs to lead. Take the contract dispute: Today is day 780 that I have worked without a contract. The reason I do not have a contract is that the superintendent decided, back at the beginning of the process, that he would not accept anything less than a full dismantling of the district's health care plan. Even when presented with the union offer that has most employees paying more in co-insurance than the district's plan and a "health and productivity management" option that, empirically, has been shown to save more than the district's plan, he petulantly said no, since it was not exactly what he wanted, despite the likely additional savings to the taxpayers of Milwaukee. Is that leadership? No, it's childishness.
I could go on--and believe me, I want to. But I will simply say that yes, the parents, children, taxpayers, teachers, and citizens in general of Milwaukee are, as Darling writes, bemoaning the lack of a strong, vocal leader at the helm of MPS. But it has nothing to do with statutory weakness in the superintendent's job; rather, it has to do with weakness in the superintedent himself.

Your Voucher Post for the Day

Imagine my joy when I saw the banner headline in today's paper: Choice school rules tighten.

Then imagine my disappointment when I learned that the Assembly merely codified the temporary rules that were put in place last year to allow DPI to shut down voucher schools that are physically unsafe or financially mismangaed. There is still nothing about being able to address schools that fail academically.

I've been mulling some options about that. Here's my proposal: I will contribute the maximum to the re-election fund of any legislator who introduces legislation to do two things. One, require that within two years all schools accepting voucher students must be accredited by an independent agency. (Many choice schools--mostly the parochial ones--already meet this requirement.) Two, all new schools applying to the program must have been in operation for at least one full academic year before accepting voucher students (and tax money), and must achieve accreditation within two years of becoming part of the program.

So there's nothing there about mandating tests, telling schools what they can and cannot teach, and so forth. Just two simple, commonsense provisions. And I know everyone in the legislature reads my blog, so, how about it, folks?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Superintendent to get Super Powers?

I'm on the trail of something that may be coming from non-Milwaukee legislators to screw Milwaukee voters. More tomorrow, I hope.

Which reminds me of this post from Xoff this morning, noting that State Sen. Ron Brown (R-Eau Claire) has raised every single cent of his re-election fund so far from out of the district:
Where did the money come from? Of the total, $9500 was from individuals, all in checks of at least $250. A pro-school choice conduit passed through $5,600 to Brown, including $1700 from Milwaukeean Howard Fuller and his wife, Deborah McGriff. The other $3,900 in conduit money was from people in California, Michigan, and Virginia.

Then there are the Waltons, and I don't mean John-Boy and Elizabeth. The Wal-Mart, school choice Waltons, whose addresses are in Wyoming and Arkansas, kicked in $3,900. That's chicken feed to a Walton, but quite a bit of dough for a State Senator who's not raising any money anywhere else.
Here we have a state senator who is not from Milwaukee. Not even close. And yet, voucher proponents are pouring money into his campaign so that, I guess, in the future he will vote to support and expand the voucher program in the Milwaukee Public Schools. This is just another example of legislators who were not elected by the people of Milwaukee making law that affects only Milwaukee. The irony is that Milwaukee leglislators consistently vote against the expansion of the voucher program--the voters here elect people wanting to curb the growth of the program and install reasonable standards. Non-Milwaukee legislators, often elected with the help of pro-voucher money, love the vouchers.

Is this fair, reasonable, or even remotely democratic? I don't think so, but then again, I'm just the one getting screwed, not the one screwing. I guess things look different from where they are.

Thoughts on the Gov Race

SurveyUSA, whose methodology is sometimes suspect--it's all robocalls, not real people asking the questions--has been doing monthly approve/disapprove on a state-by-state basis of both Bush and the governors. (See the full 50-state Bush results and governor results.) Here in Wisconsin, Bush is doing poorly, with a 41% approval and 55% disapproval rating. You can see all the results since May on a cute little graph, if you like.

The good news for Jim Doyle--J-Dizzle, if you will--is that he polls better than Bush. Barely. He's clocking in at a 43% approval and 48% disapproval level. This is not good, but not significantly different from where he has been polling for the last several months.

This leads me to two conclusions about J-Dizzle's chances next year. Conclusion one: They are not so good, and the Dizzle needs to show some leadership--not his usual re-active stance--in the next few months or there will be no one left to protect us from the theocratic flurry that will erupt from the Gards and Lasees in Madison.

Conclusion two: Mark Green probably has an even slimmer chance than our hero, señor Dizzle. Why? Well, it will be a very simple thing to tie Mark Green to George W. Bush. Virtually everything that Bush wants, Green tries to give him. I haven't run the numbers (someone will, I'm sure), but I can't recall anytime recently when Green stood up and said that the interests of his district and of Wisconsin conflict with those of the president, followed by a vote against his president and his party. Green can be tied to the Iraq war debacle, what with his being a charter member of the "Victory in Iraq" caucus. Green even had the bad sense to vote for CAFTA, a bill that virtually everyone in the state spoke against.

Note, for example, Bush's 60% disapproval rating among "Independents" and 65% disapproval among self-identified "Moderates" in this poll. Those are the Ed Thompson voters that swung the 2002 race to J-Dizzle in the first place. As long as Bush's numbers stay low--or if they keep dropping further--Green's ties to the national Republican party and to Bush will make him less electable than our milquetoast incumbent.

I do not, unfortunately, have a conclusion about Walker: Tosa Ranger's chances with regard to the info in this poll. It will be much harder to hang Bush around Scott Walker's neck--Walker's place of honor in Bush's Wisconsin 2004 campaign notwithstanding. On the other hand, as I noted last night, Walker is developing a serious habit of digging holes for himself. He may eventually find himself in one he can't get out of in time to beat Doyle.

At any rate, the choice between Walker and Green is one that I am fortunate enough not to have to make. It's bad enough I'll be holding my nose in November . . .

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Your Walker: Tosa Ranger post for the day

First, from Eye on Wisconsin:
Let me tell you a little story about Scott Walker.  Every year he wants to cut or privatize many social programs.  I have someone in my life that benefits greatly from a program at the Behavioral Health Division and every single year Walker wants to cut it.  Now, he would tell you that he is just privatizing it, but it is not that simple.  This program is the Targeted Case Management program for those with mental illness.  It teams the client up with a case manager that usually becomes a mentor and friend.  The case manager helps the client with daily life tasks and provides a stable force which helps the client live more productively in the community.  The clients, who sometimes have real problems trusting people, often rely on their case managers for much in their life.  I can personally attest to the major changes, for the better, for the person that I know as a result of the program.  Now to ask these clients to be cut off from this program and be forced into a new and unknown situation is very callous. 

One of the last few years I was helping the person that I know lobby the County Board to restore the Targeted Case Management program.  This person told me that they had an appointment with Scott Walker.  They asked me if I would come with them, and I agreed.  In that meeting I asked Walker that if the managers for the program could rework their staffing and other issues and came up with a slimmed down version of the program would he keep the program.  Walker told me that he would “look at it.”  The managers of the program did exactly that, and the result was a program budget that would not call for an increase in the tax levy to pay for it.  What did Walker do?  He once again tried to privatize it.  It was at that point that I knew that Walker’s cuts and efforts at privatization where not about the budget, but about ideology and/or something more.

Since that meeting, I have learned that Scott Walker has received thousands of campaign dollars from executives from a company called Phoenix Care Systems.  This company has received several large contracts with Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health Division.  An attempt at making an open records request last September regarding the original bidding process involving this company has yielded nothing almost a year later.  I am still waiting for Behavioral Health Division’s Jim Hill to send me what I have requested.  Phoenix Care Systems has a division called Bell Therapy.  Guess what one of their programs is called at that division?  If you guessed Targeted Case Management, you were correct!
On vacation, I happened to catch the episode of "The Simpsons" where Lisa enters the Reading Digest patriotic essay contest, and while in DC catches her congressman taking a bribe from a logging company. She blows the big prize in order to speak out against corruption, and her congressman goes down in a sting. If only it were that easy to catch even this most transparent of corruption in real life. Of course, campaign contributions are not bribes--technically--but you have to wonder why Walker: Tosa Ranger would try to "privatize" a program that is revenue-neutral, helps people who need help, and relies on continuity of care, unless it was specifically to throw business to Phoenix. Maybe there's an innocent explanation, but I doubt we'll get it.

Why do I doubt that we will get such an explanation? Because, as Xoff summarizes for us, Walker: Tosa Ranger can't tell the truth even when he is innocent. It probably was just an oversight that someone somewhere on his team neglected to add a disclaimer from his campaign to a taped phone message, and if Walker: Tosa Ranger had just come clean about it, he would have been okay. Instead, the state elections board looked at the complicated wriggling, shifting, and dodging that Walker: Tosa Ranger and his staff did and slapped him with a $5000 fine. Remember, this is the one that started with Walker's trusted friend and ally--and Walker appointee to the county elections board--Doug Haag who dismissed the notion that there may have been any wrongdoing at all. Xoff picks up the threads:
If Walker had acted the way most candidates do when a complaint is filed with the board, he probably would have gotten a slap on the wrist, too.

Instead, he falsely claimed the issue had already been resolved by the County Election Commission. The board, predictability, found out that wasn't true.

He claimed the disclaimer was left off by the vendor, accidentally, and that the problem was corrected when his campaign learned about it. But his campaign offered no evidence to back up the claim that it asked for a disclaimer, and the vendors didn't back that up either.

When a complaint was filed, Walker asked for two extensions on his reply and then still missed the deadline and filed incomplete responses.

Finally, Walker dissed the board by not coming to the meeting himself and sending someone--John Hiller, his treasurer--who had nothing to do with placing the calls and couldn't really offer any useful information. [. . .] George Dunst, the Elections Board attorney, investigated the case and wrote a memo (.pdf) to the board before the meeting, basically saying in lawyerese that Walker's response did not ring true. I wrote a post about in before the meeting, saying that Dunst clearly didn't believe Walker.

It still might have gone OK for Walker if he--or someone responsible for the violation--had showed up, taken responsibility, explained how it happened, and promised to take steps to make sure there was no repeat. Instead, Walker ducked it and sent Hiller, whose lack of information simply irritated board members.
This man wants to be governor! He acts like a prima donna, obfuscates when he doesn't need to, shuffles people between his campaign and his office staff like lovers on a soap opera, and whines when an independent body nails him for it. (Some people disagree that the State Elections Board is independent, but they are grasping at straws.) Jeebus knows I am no fan of Jim Doyle, but if Walker: Tosa Ranger is what's behind curtain number two, then J-Dizzle it is.

Two Links for You

Eye on Wisconsin. Good stuff there.

LeftyBlogs/Wisconsin, the Wisconsin aggregator part of the LeftyBlogs site.

Still working on a blogroll update.

RIP, Big Dan

So I go on a little vacation, and I miss the sad news that Dan Champion passed away last Friday. Ralph mentioned it in the comments to the last post, below; my thoughts are ith Mrs. Dan and the family.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Something to think about

If Russ doesn't run for president, I may have to support this guy.

Slow blogging the weekend

Doing stuff. Peruse the blogroll, down and to the right.

Friday, August 12, 2005

"The West Wing"/ Rove-Plame redux

In light of Think Progress's fully-sourced list of 21 Bush Administration officials who may have slightly dirty hands in the scandal surrounding the leak of CIA agent Valarie (Plame) Wilson's name to the press, I thought I would revsist my earlier post which lined up players in the scandal with characters from "The West Wing." Here are Think Progresses 21, with their "The West Wing" counterparts.
  1. Karl Rove - Josh Lyman (Deputy Chief of Staff)
  2. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby - Will Bailey (Chief of Staff to the Vice President)
  3. Condoleezza Rice - Lewis Berryhill (Secretary of State)
  4. Stephen Hadley - Nancy McNally (National Security Advisor)
  5. Andrew Card - Leo MacGarry/ CJ Cregg (Chief of Staff)
  6. Alberto Gonzales - Alan Fisk (Attorney General)
  7. Mary Matalin - Random Extra! (Advisor to the Vice President)
  8. Ari Fleischer - CJ Cregg (Press Secretary)
  9. Susan Ralston - Donna Moss (Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff)
  10. Israel Hernandez - Charlie Young (Personal Assistant to the President)
  11. John Hannah - Random Extra! (Assistant to the Vice President)
  12. Scott McClellan - CJ Cregg (Press Secretary)
  13. Dan Bartlett - Toby Ziegler (Communications Director)
  14. Claire Buchan - Carol Fitzpatrick (Deputy Press Secretary)
  15. Catherine Martin - Random Extra! (Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs)
  16. Colin Powell - General Percy Fitzwallace (Fitz never made it to Secretary of State, but you know Powell is who his character is based on)
  17. Karen Hughes - Ed and Larry (White House Aide--although Karen Hughes was much closer and more influential than either Ed or Larry, or even both of them combined)
  18. Adam Levine - Annabeth Schott (Communications Aide)
  19. Bob Joseph - Albie Duncan (Undersecretary of State--in Joseph's case for Arms Control; I don't know what Hal Holbrook's character does)
  20. Vice President Dick Cheney - Bingo Bob Russell (Vice President)
  21. President George W. Bush - Jed Bartlett (President)
If you know people who aren't taking this scandal seriously, email them this list, and then tell them to imagine that all of these people were involved in blowing Kate Harper's cover. Then they will get it.

Friday Random Ten

Another Coolness-Factor Edition
  1. "Nineteen" Old 97s from Fight Songs: Oh, to be 19 again. Or to have been 19 when this song came out. "Watch me now," indeed. 9/10.
  2. "When You Come Back Down" Nickel Creek from Nickel Creek: They say the Holy Trinity is carrots, celery, onions. I say it's fiddle, mandolin, guitar. Though this isn't a favorite song. 5/10.
  3. "I'm Not Down" Jon Svetkey from yeahyeahyeah: "I'm not down/ I'm just not looking up too far/ I would rather hold your hand on this earth/ than keep reaching for the stars." From memory, since I wore this CD out in college. 7/10.
  4. "Second Chance at Romance" Kate MacLeod from Waterbug Artists' Collective Anthology 2: She's from that genre of songwriters who are really, really talented, but whose music I don't care for. Great lyric, mediocre listen. 3/10.
  5. "Maori" Girlyman from Remember Who I Am: There are some songs from this record that I really, really dig. This is not one. 6/10.
  6. "All in the Groove" Blues Traveler from Travelers and Thieves: Remember when listening to Blues Traveler meant you were cool? And this song is so dated--back up vocals from that guy from the Spin Doctors, an in-line reference to MC Hammer . . . But it rocks, even yet. 8/10.
  7. "Lied" Myshkin's Ruby Warblers from Vote in November 2004: Election Anti-Theft Device: Yes, that's what it's about. While I generally agree with the sentiment ("The first time I saw your bastard face," is how it starts, "I knew you lied"--it gets more heavy-handed after that), I can take or leave the song. 5/10.
  8. "Shape I'm In" The Band from The Last Waltz: Once, in high school, a debate teammate (yes I was a nerd!) asked hypothetically, "Wouldn't it be funny if someone formed a band and called it 'The Band'?" I explained it to him. 9/10.
  9. "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" Bruce Cockburn from Anything Anytime Anywhere: I hate that the production dates this song inevitably to the eighties, but, man, is it a good lyric. 9/10.
  10. "You Can Go Now" Vance Gilbert from Unfamiliar Moon: "You can go now/ I will not celebrate this leaving in a song," with that light jazzy guitar belying the sadness of the story. 8/10.
Total: 69, dude! Or 69% cool. A little better than last time.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

There's an irony here

The Buddhists are upsetting people:
Shortly after the Wat Lao Wattanaram Buddhist Temple of Wisconsin submitted applications for the building and zoning of a Buddhist colony in Caledonia, some area residents started pooling their resources to halt the possible construction on 13 acres that would include a temple, meditation building, fellowship hall, Buddha building and nun facility.

Some residents contend that Caledonia needs a larger tax base and is an odd choice for a Buddhist temple, but supporters argue that larger factors - mainly discrimination - are at work.

"Why did they pick Caledonia?" resident Holly Due said. "Does Caledonia have a huge Buddhist community? I don't see it."

Residents near the proposed development have been meeting informally and have filed letters of concern with the Racine County Economic & Land Use Planning Committee. [. . .]

"A great deal of it has to do with not knowing," said the Rev. Tonen O'Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center. "Buddhism is not very well understood by a great many Christians."

Robert Mason, associate professor of Geographic & Urban Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, said communities often rally against building of religious institutions. He also said a conservation subdivision is tough to assemble.

"A Caucasian community and a Buddhist temple . . . there could be additional issues there," Mason said.
I think we need to airlift in some cream for that NIMBY infection, STAT.

Okay, okay, I see that there is an argument to made that it's more important to have another housefarm subdivision full of taxpayers. But, really, I think the Buddhists would make good neighbors.

I have one simple question:

Where's my contract?

I mean, really: The two-year contract still in the hands of the arbitrator expired six weeks ago. So, Professor Grenig, if you are reading this, give me a sign, will you? Please?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I'm not a praying man

But for those of you who are, Big Dan needs 'em.

Poor old predictable me

This new round of voter fraud allegations--that up to nine people may have voted in Milwaukee and a second city--again show the need for some comprehensive reform in voting laws but not, contrary to those who like to grandstand about such things, a photo ID requirement.

For example, if you move to Chicago near the election date, and want to vote twice, you can request an absentee ballot before you go. When it arrives in your Chicago mailbox, fill it out and mail it back. Nowhere along the line do you have to show ID, nor, in fact, would it be feasible to do so. Then, on election day, stroll down to the polling place in Chicago and flash your new Illinois license. Even with a brand new voter ID bill passed into law here, this exact scenario can play out as many times as unscrupulous voters may want to try it and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. The same can happen--though it may be easier to track--with moving voters within the state, as well, and an ID requirement won't stop it.

Instead of seeking real voting reforms (remember that "legislative task force" that was supposed to be researching reform options months ago? Where is that now?), Republicans keep rolling the same lousy boulder up the hill. Democrats have offered ideas, like Tom Barrett's a while back, or Doyle's efforts to compromise. Republicans don't care; they know that they can suppress Democratic turnout--turnout in general, even--with a photo ID requirement, and they won't stop until they get it.

See previous posts here, here, here, and here.