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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, September 30, 2005

End of Quarter: Donate to Bryan Kennedy Today

His website is here.

That is all.

Friday Random Ten

The Blame Game Edition

1. "Wisteria" Richard Shindell from Courier Bonus CD
2. "Thinkin' Out Loud" Mulgrew Miller from Hand in Hand
3. "Borrowed Bride" Old 97s from Drag it Up
4. "You Stay Here" Willy Porter from High Wire Live
5. "Molly" Don Conoscenti from Extremely Live at Eddie's Attic
6. "What Kind of Live is This" Carrie Newcomer from My True Name
7. "Tower Song" Townes Van Zandt from Live at the Old Quarter
8. "I Know What Kind of Love This Is" The Nields from Live from Northampton
9. "Forty Thousand Headmen" Traffic from Feelin' Alright: The Best Of
10. "Say Something" Ellis Paul from Say Something

And remember: The food pantry needs your food, and I need your body, at the Coffee House next Friday, 10/07, at the Pink Floyd-themed tribute featuring me, Don Schiewer, Gary Kitchin, and Fred and Ethel.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Another victory!

A much littler one, but far more symbolic. When I started this little escapade, people sometimes found me by Googling "rants." I spent a long time in the 41-50 range for returned results in those searches.

Well, through no fault of my own, I have now finally broken the top ten hits. Woo-hoo!

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Longest day of the year. Except there are four of them. Anyway, the first one is tonight, which means I won't get to blogging--heck, I won't get home--until nigh on 8:00 tonight. Enjoy the links, including the new Carnival of the Badger at Fred's place.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I read banned books

It's Banned Books Week, and I'm playing the game. The underlined ones are ones I have read (bolded ones are ones I've taught):
Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Sex by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Yes, it's true; I've neve read Slaughterhouse Five. But I think I've done pretty well, considering that many of these are children's books published long after I've been a child. Your turn!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

-6.13, -5.95

Those are my results at the Political Compass. Some of you may have noticed that I added it to the top, just so any visitors know what they're getting. And, since everyone else is doing it, there's this one:

You are a

Social Liberal
(73% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(16% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Socialist



Link: The Politics Test


I would not call myself a socialist--though the right half of the Cheddarsphere will love it!--but a Democrat. I'm kind of sad that this poll does not identify me as such. Oh well--something to discuss at Drinking Liberally tomorrow.

Drinking Liberally Tomorrow

Come by Club Garibaldi and hang out for a while.

Kennedy on TV

Nice guy and candidate for Congress in Wisconsin's 5th CD Bryan Kennedy has released what we believe to be the first TV ad for any Congressional campaign in the 2006 cycle, going after F. You and Your Mother Sensenbrenner's softer support based on F. Jim's vote against aid to Hurricane Katrina victims.

You can see the ad here, and contribute here to help keep it up on the air beyond just this week.

I think this is a good move, and a good sign. In 2004, Bryan was hampered by poor name recognition and a lack of funds to get much TV (if any; what with the TiVo, I don't really see the commercials). That he can afford a buy now speaks well of his fund-raising and bodes well for his chances next year.

You can also help to stop the rest of the Katrina 11, if you're so inclined!

The Squeaky Wheel? More on MPS, MTEA, and health care

I don't know if I can take credit for it or not, but after a number of posts here on the issue, letters to editors, and an email exchange with a reporter, I see that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an editorial up today that, for the first time since the arbitrator's decision--and the revised story, at that--admits in print that the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association's proposal asked teachers to pay for their health care, too:
Outside of prescription drugs, health care had been virtually cost-free for teachers, but not, of course, for taxpayers. And soaring health care costs had led to educational cutbacks. The administration proposed that teachers start picking up a share of the costs. The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association eventually agreed to do so--a breakthrough that failed to go far enough. The union sought to peg the share teachers pay to their salaries. The administration sought to peg it to actual costs [of the Aetna plan only, not the HMO--ed.].

The administration argued, persuasively, that its method would give teachers incentives to control costs and thus help slow the soaring price of health care--a goal not achieved by the teachers' proposal.
I've been through this before: As long as MPS self-funds its health-care program, it is stupid and dangerous to divide employees into healthy teachers who pay little and ill teachers who pay more. It will not take long for the proportions to fall completely out of whack, to where the healthy teachers' contributions no longer cover a significant portion of the ill teachers' costs; this will cause the cost of the Aetna plan to keep skyrocketing, causing an even greater disparity, causing further increases, and so on until the district is bankrupted by its own health care plan.

The next post I write for the Superintendent Report Card Blog will be in part, I think, about how this district is caught in a crisis not of its own making--the debacle that is our national health care system. The "soaring price of health care" has naught to do with MPS teachers' taking care of themselves and their families, but rather an impotence among our national leadership to do something about the problem. However, MPS had an opportunity in this last contract to work collaboratively with its employees to find ways to fund its insurance program that were both fair and comprehensive. Instead, the superintendent and his labor relations lawyers dug their heels in and refused to compromise. After more than a year of obstruction on their part--a year in which taxpayers bore the costs of their refusal to settle!--the district won an arbitration doomed to push us toward bankruptcy, and now they get lauded as heroes.

Disgusting.

Monday, September 26, 2005

WI-8 Dem Primary Candidate Profile: Dr. Steve Kagen

Last Friday morning, I woke up to an email from an old college classmate, who just happens to be working for Wisconsin 8th CD candidate Steve Kagen. He invited me to join another college classmate, Stacie, in a meeting with with the candidate and his manager, Eric Hogensen, who also managed Matt Flynn's campaign here in the 4th CD last fall.

Let's remind ourselves what's going on here: The current Congressman, Republican Mark Green, is racing to be granted the honor of losing a squeaker to Jim Doyle in November 2006. There are two announced Republican candidates, Terri McCormick and John Gard. The blood between those two is already quite bad, and guaranteed to get worse as the primary heats up and Gard single-mindedly pursues his theocratic crusade and McCormick keeps tacking to the center.

Into that race come four Democrats: Kagan, retired Ashwaubenon police officer Rich Langan, former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum, and businessman Jamie Wall. The Dem side of the primary seems quiet so far, and what I've read of the big players--Langan is not a big player yet--is positive, with all bringing different advantages to the table. (Let me just say here that I am happy to sit down with any of the rest of the candidates at any point.)

My initial impression of Kagen was good, even before I met him. He's doing what good candidates do, reaching out to the Cheddarsphere and bloggers not just for money or buzz, but for advice. So I went into the meeting very upbeat, and, with the assurance that I could write whatever I wanted in response, good or bad, I started sipping my grande double chocolate chip blended creme frappacino in high spirits. (I don't drink coffee; sue me.)

After some small talk ("What is a blog, exactly?"), Kagen got down to the stumping. Kagen's advantage, he says, is that he's a doctor, and he can talk health care like no one else. He's running because no one else is standing up for his patients; he told story after story of patients stretching their health care because they can't afford it. The 8th CD is a very blue-collar district, and as the good union jobs have evaporated, more people find themselves having to make decisions that no American should have to make.

Health care is where it's at, Kagen believes, and he says it will be the winning issue in 2006. He certainly has it over John Gard, here, and can probably beat his primary opponents on the issue, too. His health care plan is five-fold:
  1. Open disclosure of all prices. Getting the real price of a procedure is like pulling teeth. Health care providers hide the costs at all costs.
  2. Unitary Pricing. It is not fair that those with the means to pay--the insured--pay less than those without. At a restaurant, he asks, do you get charged differently based on what you're wearing? Or what time of day it is? A service costs a certain amount, and all of us should be charged the same.
  3. One national risk pool. Shared risk means lower costs. Period.
  4. A household deductible of 3% of income. We all have to contribute.
  5. Governments--local, state, federal--must take care of the needy. This is an obligation, not an option.
While I don't know how on-board I am with all of these, it certainly is more thorough than anything we've heard from the Republican side.

Some additional points of biography: Kagen was instrumental in the civil rights work at UW in the 1960s; Kagen's father helped to revitalize the Democratic party around the same time. Since then, Kagen's influence in the party has been primarily as a donor, though now, as I indicated above, he feels he needs to stand up for his patients.

And some additional impressions: Steve Kagen is not a politician. He likes to talk about himself, sure, as candidates do, but he lacked, from my hour with him, a certain savvy. For example, he railed against Wal*Mart and in favor local businesses, as I sat across from him at Starbucks. There were a couple of points at which I made what I thought were obvious points that surprised him. But that's why he was there, I guess. If he keeps listening, and standing up for health care, then he may have a chance.

NEA Today on Teacher Bloggers

There have been some big moments in my blogging life: Getting quoted in USA Today, for example, or raising David Horowitz's hackels. But now I have a better one!

The October NEA Today features an article on teacher bloggers. I haven't gotten the print version in my mailbox yet, but the electronic version of the article contains some basic info on teacher bloggers and includes links to many teacher's blogs: Mine, Joe's, and Tim's, plus a mention--but no link--of Ms. Frizzle. There are some other blogs there that I've heard of but don't read, as well.

Anyway, welcome NEA Today readers; I hope you come back regularly, and spend some time exploring my links to the Advocates and other teachers' blogs.

Nobody told *me* about this

Edited to correct an earlier mis-reading of the story. This is what I get for trying to blog in those six minutes over breakfast.

Proving that I am indeed a lone voice in the wilderness, this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel features more teachers' union bashing. It comes in this story from Alan Borsuk, about a north side pharmacy using a loophole in the state law to abuse the "hold harmless" clause that exists for MPS's health insurance plans until November 1:
The Pharmacy, 8430 W. Capitol Drive, has been allowed to "price-gouge with impunity," MPS said in legal papers filed as part of arbitration proceedings over a contract with teachers that was recently settled in favor of the School Board and administration.

In practices that go back more than 20 years, MPS employees have avoided paying the 20% share of prescription costs that they otherwise would have to pay when they get prescriptions filled by The Pharmacy. At least in recent years, MPS officials say the drug store then has billed MPS an amount far enough above the going rate for prescriptions to more than make up that 20%.

To get out of paying the 20%, teachers and retirees sign affidavits that say paying their share would impose "an undue financial hardship" on them. There are no standards set in state law for what constitutes such a hardship.
I'm not afraid to call 'em like I see 'em, and this is clearly an abuse on the part of The Pharmacy and any MPS employees who were taking advantage of it. And how many people is that? Well, you have to get almost to the end of the story to find out that it's down to maybe 75 people, total, who are costing the district around $100,000 a year. I don't listen to right-wing radio, but I bet you a nickel that Sykes, Belling, and Co. will spend more time on this story today than they have total on the story of the choice school official who stole $750,000 of taxpayer money.

And the union bashing:
Leaders of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association say they agreed that there were problems with the high billing from The Pharmacy but that they thought the issue could be resolved without taking the language about paying "100% of submitted costs" out of the contract. Sam Carmen, executive director of the teachers union, said the union offered to work with the administration to deal with The Pharmacy.

But MPS officials said during arbitration hearings that when efforts had been made in the past to trim the amounts claimed by The Pharmacy, union officials had objected, saying the full claims had to be paid.

In written closing arguments for the arbitration, Donald. L. Schriefer, the assistant city attorney representing MPS, wrote: "The MTEA knows all about The Pharmacy. Its long association with The Pharmacy . . . suggests not only a full understanding of The Pharmacy's practices but at least tacit support."

Documents submitted by MPS included a 1982 union newsletter announcing that two pharmacies were offering to waive the 20% payment under the MPS plan for prescriptions, saying, "You pay nothing and do no paperwork." Gollin was involved in the two pharmacies, which have evolved into The Pharmacy.
1982. Yes, 1982. It's absurd to suggest that a newsletter from twenty-flipping-three years ago is "tacit support" today. In fact, 90% of MPS's current teachers weren't even working for the district in 1982. No one told me I could go get free prescriptions at The Pharmacy (not that I would), and no one seems to have encouraged any of the other 9,925 or so MPS employees to do it, either. And of course the union should fight to keep employees from being responisible for costs that they should not be under the contract; that's the union's job, and if they didn't do it, we'd fire them. It's the district's responsibility--Aetna's, really--to fight with providers over "hold harmless" costs, and for the most part, Aetna wins. That it couldn't win in this case suggests a failure on Aetna's part, not the union's.

So, thanks, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. You just made my job so much more fun today.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Two Links for You

I'm still working on my write-up of the Steve Kagen meeting, and I hope to have it posted tomorrow. In the meantime, read this week's Carnival of the Badger and Advocate Weekly. Paul and Joe both outdid themselves.

The newspaper can't stop lying about the Milwakuee teachers' union

It's been a little less than a month since an arbitrator decided in favor of the Milwaukee Public Schools administration's proposal for the 2003-2005 contract. In that time, the local newspaper has repeatedly misled the public about the results. I noted here that the paper started doing it in their very first article about the settlement, and they have kept it up.

What's the lie? Let me show you two examples from this week, and see if you can spot it:
#1. Both [subjects of the artcile] are Milwaukee Public Schools teachers and, under a contract settlement imposed by an arbitrator, they must decide between an HMO-style health care plan or the less-restricted health plan they have been on. [. . .] Until now, the more expansive health care plan, a preferred provider organization known within MPS as the Aetna plan, has cost the Strongs almost nothing out of pocket. It has been the choice of more than 85% of MPS employees. Under the arbitrator's ruling, if the Strongs stick with the Aetna plan, they will pay a significantly larger portion of their health care costs than they have paid until now [. . .]. The arbitrator, Marquette University Law School professor Jay Grenig, cited the high cost of health insurance for MPS in ruling for the school system's proposal.

#2. An arbitrator decided in favor of the administration's proposal in late August, meaning that teachers will soon shoulder a larger share of their health care costs.
Did you see that? In both stories, the implication is that the district's contract proposal required teachers to pay for their health care, and that the union's proposal did not. This is a lie.

Anyone who closely followed the contract arbitration--followed it in any news sources besides the newspaper, anyway--knows that the union's proposal actually required teachers to pay more than the district's proposal did. This is not my opinion; this is indisputable fact. Take me, for example. If the union plan had been selected, I would be paying about $960 for family health care this year (save your snide remarks--this is a significant jump from nothing, and would have required some budget recalculations here at casa folkbum). Now, if I moved to the HMO and maxed it out, I'd pay only $450. On the Aetna plan, assuming I stay healthy and don't need more shots in my back, I might pay $300 or $350 ($200 deductible plus 10% coinsurance; not counting my back stuff last year, we didn't have $1500 of medical costs), with a worst-case max of $600. And for teachers higher on the salary scale than I am, the union's plan would have them paying even more*.

So there you have it: The paper, playing up the fact that the union lost in arbitration, adds insult to injury by insinuating that the union's proposal didn't ask teachers to pay for health care when, in fact, it did.

Unions in general--and teachers unions in particluar--are easy targets for lazy right-wing thought (see Owen's reflexive union-bashing, for example). Yet in this instance, MTEA stepped up, took responsibility, and proposed a fairer, more reasonable solution than the district's single-minded inflexibility allowed. So the district refused to settle, sent the contract to arbitration, and, after the newspaper's lying spin, looks like the hero.

This is especially frustrating when you consider all the positive work that the teachers' union does. MTEA regularly runs workshops and classes for professional development; its TEAM program is a model for the entire nation; and it coordinates with the national union to provide help closing the achievement gap. I defy anyone to name a single other union that uses so much of its dues to help its members do their jobs better. Some people complain about the use or misuse of dues without recognizing that the vast majority comes back to the schools after all.

And yet, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, following its conservative education editors' lead, would have you believe the union is the cause of all that's wrong in MPS. This is a lie.


*You may be wondering, then, why I supported the union in this over MPS. It's simple, and I outline it in that first link above: The district's plan is stupid and dangerous. As long as we keep self-funding, we can't keep dividing teachers into the camps of healthy teachers and ill teachers in different plans, especially when the healthy people contribute little to the cost. The union's plan would have shared the costs among all members of the bargaining unit.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Report Card Time

I know what you're thinking: It's only the fourth week of school! How can there be report cards already? Well, it's not about my students: It's about the superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools.

I was one of nearly 3000 Milwaukee teachers to evaluate the superintendent. If you are a regular reader, you can probably guess the kinds of grades I gave him. I wish now that I had made a copy of my report card before I mailed it in, so I can remember exactly, but I did not. Sigh. Whatever specific grades I gave him, you can see the complete results here.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about being on a conference call with Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, and how it was nice that someone was finally asking teachers what they thought about reforming education. That almost never happens. Those of us on the front lines, who see solutions but seldom are empowered to implement them, can do more than sit silently in our classrooms. This report card is a slight move in the right direction, though this is basically negative input, not seeking solutions. I do hope it's the start of something positive, though.

I have been asked to blog about the MPS superintendent report card at the report card blog, but the invite still hasn't come through. I did write my first post, though, and for want of anywhere else to put it, I'll put it here.
If you can't say something nice

Jay Bullock, here. I am a teacher at Madison University High School, and an old hat at this blogging thing: I can usually be found at the award-winning folkbum's rambles and rants weblog.

I was invited to participate here, in part because of my blogging experience and in part because I have been an outspoken supporter of public education in this city. I have also been a constant critic of the superintendent. However, I thought I would start with something positive, and how the superintendent undermines it every chance he gets.

You've by now undoubtedly see the Superintendent's Report Card. if you haven't, click through and get a sense of the grades he received from many thousands teachers in the district. I admit, when I filled out my survey, I scored the superintendent very low in nearly every category. I tried, as I do when I grade my students, to be consistent and fair. So when I came a category where I though he deserved praise, I gave him an A.

That category was "Advocating for public education and specifically MPS." You can see that it was one of the few categories in which the superintendent's GPA would be considered passing.

I have always been impressed, especially in light of his other actions, with the way our superintendent is willing to go to Madison to fight for the Milwaukee Public Schools. He recognizes the same thing that so many of the rest of us advocating for public education do: A district such as MPS, with poverty at epidemic levels and so many other problems that make educating our students a challenge, needs strong state support. There are too many members of our state legislature who do not share that opinion of MPS, and our superintendent has never, ever shied away from fighting them, that I know of. He was especially involved in the budget fight last June, when Republican leaders in Madison wanted to keep cutting public school funding across the state. Our superintended saw the enemy there, and fought for us.

And yet, when the superintendent comes back to Milwaukee from Madison, he keeps that fighting spirit, and he looks for enemies even among those who should be his strongest allies.

Time after time, the superintendent has elected to alienate, divide, and belittle the teachers in this district. All the good will he may have developed by fighting for the resources we need to do our jobs gets squandered by his efforts to undermine our confidence, professionalism, unity, and--some days--sanity. That's why the superintendent scored so low on the first section of the Report Card--his relationships with teachers.

MPS is huge. There are billions of dollars of assets in and held by the district. Yet the most important asset this district has is its teachers. The superintendent can't see that, and that is his most crucial failure of leadership.
So there you go. You can read Sarah Carr's write-up of the report card in the newspaper, with the superintendent's response and words from some fellow teachers. I hope that the report card gets Milwaukee talking about what we really need in a superintendent. I also hope that people like Alberta Darling take notice: Our superintendent has failed.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Busy week!

I tell you what, between winning the semifinals, a bunch of school-related meetings, and meeting a candidate today, I barely even had time to chip my tooth on a fork at dinner.

A write-up of my meeting with Steve Kagen, a candidate for the open seat in the WI-8, this weekend. I also want to say something about Feingold and Roberts, the Superintendent Report Card, and more. Let's see how much I get to.

Friday Random Ten

The We Are the Champions Edition

1. "Don't Ask for the Water" Ryan Adams from Heartbreaker
2. "Maria's Beautiful Mess" Ellis Paul from Live
3. "Money" Pink Floyd*** from Dark Side of the Moon
4. "Duration" Williw Wisely Trio from Raincan
5. "Mars Needs Women: They're Here" Béla Fleck and the Flecktones from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
6. "Plenty" Sarah McLachlan from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
7. "Mayday" Kate McDonnell from Where the Mangoes Are
8. "Hallelujah" Martin Sexton from Live at the World Cafe
9. "Texas" Jim Henry from The Wayback
10. Beautiful World" Colin Hay from "Scrubs" Soundtrack

***This is a good time to remind you of the Food Pantry benefit I'm playing: Accoustic Floyd, Friday, 10/07 at the Coffee House.

Three-peat! Three-peat!

Okay, I know it was only once, but still, "three-peat" sounds a lot catchier than "I won the second semifinal round at MKEonline's blog of the week contest."

Many thanks to those who campaigned and voted for me, in particular, Bill Christofferson, who generously endorsed me even though he was also nominated. Also, congrats to the other fine blogs who were nominated. I will stop rubbing it in by, oh, February.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

New MKEonline poll

Results aren't up yet for the semifinal round just closed, but the new contestants are up for this week, including three blogs from my sidebar:Tough call. At least I have a week to decide . . .

Welcome MKEonline Voters! (everyone else, too)

I'm making this post stick around at the top for a while--scroll down for new content. Thanks for checking out the blog before voting. I'd give you a highlight reel, but I think the whole thing has been pretty decent of late. Just scroll down. Then come back up here to click through and vote for me.

If you're a regular or irregular reader of mine, I'd also appreciate your vote.

Did I mention that it would be nice if you voted for me?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

There's some kind of irony in this

Here it is, the last night of voting for the MKEonline semifinals, with nice endorsements from Fighting Bob and fellow contestant Xoff, and I haven't had a minute to post. Busy with school, MTEA leadership convocation (featuring, might I add, Xoff's friend John Stocks as keynote speaker), work to do tonight. And I so want to jump in on this conversation with Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and my pal Ken and others.

Sigh.

Anyway, if you haven't yet, I could use your vote. Otherwise, enjoy the fine blogs linked below and to the right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why I shouldn't write about voter ID during premiere week

Today the Wisconsin state senate Republicans again failed to override Gov. J-Dizzle's veto of their cold-hearted attempt to stop those brown and black folk from voting. Coincidentally, some guy named Jimmy Carter and Bush consigliere James Baker and their commission released a report that Republicans are already using to prop up their doomed efforts.

A couple of things you need to know about the Carter-Baker Commission: One, holding a hot seat at the table is the American Center for Voting Rights. You remember the ACVR, right? Front-group for GOP hacks who needed jobs in the burgeoning vote suppression field. (BradBlog is the man on ACVR.) Two, not everyone from the Carter-Baker Commission is in agreement with the voter ID provisions.

While both the GOP and the CBC (Carter-Baker Commission is just too darn long to type) offer free IDs, the CBC recommends--wait for it--mobile voter ID units, operating evenings and weekends, that eliminate the primary problem of ID-getting. I do also like the provision that would automatically register to vote anyone who gets an ID, whether mobile or stationary. Personally, I think it would make a great hour of TV every week: A renegade registrar driving all over the country registering voters and solving crimes while being chased by some two-bit sheriff. If there were a monkey on the show, too, it would absolutely rock.

In addition, the CBC would allow voters without photo ID to cast provisional ballots until 2010, giving everyone who wants to vote a chance to; if they need to verify their identity later, they can. If the GOP won't let them, our renegade registrar will drive over them with his mobile registration unit. And don't forget that voter ID is just one of 87 provisions designed both to make the franchise more accessible and the vote more secure.

In other words, while I am not whole-heartedly endorsing the voter ID provisions, the Carter-Baker Commission has actually done a decent job of ensuring that everyone can vote. The Wisconsin GOP keep beating their long-rotten horse in the hopes that they can disenfranchise enough brown and black people to build their theocratic Barbie Dream House. They can dream on. Me? I'll be in the truck with the monkey.

Vote Bryan Now!

As I mentioned last night, good guy Bryan Kennedy has made it to the final round of Democracy for America's HouseVote Grassroots All-Star competition. Kennedy is taking on F. the Constitution Sensenbrenner in Wisconsin's 5th CD. This is a winnable race, and with the help of DFA and grassroots activists, Bryan can get the kind of head start that it will take to beat Sensenbrenner.

The voting is now open at DFA's website. You will have to do some research, though, since the competition is set up as instant run-off voting, which means that after you vote for Bryan as your first choice, you can select any of the other nine cadidates as your second choice, then your third, and so on.

Your second job, after clicking through to vote for Bryan, is to call, email, write, visit--something!--everyone you know and ask them also to login and vote for Bryan over DFA. We can do this, people! We can beat them wily Californians and Pennsylvanians!

RIP, Simon Wiesenthal

He's now hunting Nazis in the sky.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Average!

You Are 50% Boyish and 50% Girlish

You are pretty evenly split down the middle - a total eunuch.
Okay, kidding about the eunuch part. But you do get along with both sexes.
You reject traditional gender roles. However, you don't actively fight them.
You're just you. You don't try to be what people expect you to be.


What does it mean when the girls are more boyish than I am? Must be that they like shooting guns . . .

Bryan Kennedy: DFA Finalist!

I got an email today from the BK2006 campaign saying that Bryan Kennedy, candidate in Wisconsin's 5th CD, has made it to the next round in Democracy for America's HouseVote competition. This is sort of like American Idol, but for Congress, and with less Simon.

But I can't find anything to confirm this on DFA, or BFA, or even BK2006. However, I don't think Bill Elliot would lie to me. So here's the press release:
KENNEDY A FINALIST IN DEMOCRACY FOR AMERICA ENDORSEMENT

Glendale, WI - Bryan Kennedy, Democratic candidate for Congress in
Wisconsin's 5th Congressional District, announced today that he has been
selected as a finalist in Democracy for America's Grassroots All-Star
competition.

"I am excited that, out of 57 races featured across the country, the
grassroots activists chose me to be in the top ten," said Kennedy. "This
endorsement is extremely valuable in a race like mine, because DFA
members are known to be an energized group of people. They could help me
expand my grassroots base even more, and that's something that Jim
Sensenbrenner does not have."

Democracy for America will be using an instant run-off voting system for
the final round that enables people to vote for their favorite
candidates. The voting will be open to all visitors to:
www.democracyforamerica.com beginning Tuesday, September 20, 2005 at 9
am EST. Voting runs until Saturday, September 24, 2005 at 5 pm EST.
Safeguards will be in place to assure a one person-one vote policy.

Live updates will be posted at www.BlogforAmerica.com once every hour.
The candidate with the most votes at the end of balloting on September
24th will receive a DFA-List endorsement and a national e-mail from
DFA's Chair Jim Dean during the last week of September.

The 5th Congressional District includes all of Ozaukee and Washington
counties, and portions of Milwaukee, Jefferson and Waukesha counties.

###
I will have a link up bright and early for your voting pleasure. Please use it, and catapult this race against F. You (and your mother) Sensenbrenner into the national spotlight. Remember, DFA had a pretty good track record last fall--and getting Bryan a head start this far out will be a solid!

Arrrrrrr!

It is, in fact, Talk Like a Priate Day. Shiver me timbers, blow me down, and whatnot.

List your favorite pirate jokes below in comments. I'll start:

Did you hear about the new pirate movie? It's rated Arrrrrr!

Advocate weekly 9/18/05

Once again, Joe Thomas does the hard work of collecting a new Advocate Weekly. Thanks, Joe. The rest of you should read it . . .

Sunday, September 18, 2005

McCormick vs. Gard, again

A while back, you may remember, there was a bit of a dust-up in GOPland around the race to replace Mark Green in Wisconsin's 8th CD. I posted excerpts of a missive from an 8th-CD Republican disturbed first at the way John Gard (R-Peshtigo Sun Prairie) seemed to be getting deferential treatment when official GOP policy is not to play favorites in a primary, and second at the way Gard has been running the Assembly to rack up points with big contributors and sell out the little people. There was some follow-up around the Cheddarsphere, and, from where I sat, things got quiet for a while.

This week, though, Sadie Says that the fight between Mean Mr. Gard and the more moderate and likeable State Rep. terry McCormick is going to get uglier before it gets better:
State Representative Terri McCormick (R-Appleton) called for Speaker John Gard and Joint Finance Co-Chair Dean Kaufert to immediately release the 2005 Health Care Reform Package from committee, urging a public hearing on this critical issue.

Assembly Bills 515-519 are currently collecting dust in the Joint Finance Committee when they could be helping local governments provide responsible property tax relief, said McCormick. We cannot expect local governments to freeze property taxes unless we provide them with the tools they need to address the fastest rising expense in their budgets.

The McCormick plan for health care reform would curb health insurance costs by allowing local governments to competitively bid for health insurance plans. A January report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute estimated that introducing free market principles and transparency into the bargaining process would save the state of Wisconsin a minimum of $100 million. A similar plan for prescription drugs modeled after McCormick's proposal produced a $25 million savings in the first year alone.
You can search my archives: As long as I have been talking about what a bad idea any kind of "freeze" is--be it TABOR or the other freezes that get floated--I have used health care as my primary counter-argument. It is just stupid to expect governments to maintain anything close to the current level of service if the costs of health care continue to outpace inflation (or personal income growth) by 400 or 500%. Either we end up with a public sector with no health care coverage or we end up with bare-bones services provided by a decimated workforce. Yes, yes, I know the wingnut conservatives would be happy to see Wisconsin's public sector shrivel to the point where they could drown it in a bathtub, but the vast majority of Wisconsin's voters, students, parents, residents, and taxpayers do not.

I haven't had the chance yet to investigate the bills McCormick wants released, but I appreciate the effort and I can tell both that her heart is in the right place and that she is smart enough to anticipate the disaster a tax freeze would mean without concurrent controls on the costs of health care.

On the other hand, it also does my heart good to know that the Republican primary in a Dem-winnable district like the 8th could be messy. And if Frank Lasee gets in? All bets would be off on the bloodiness.

Of course, I would hate to see Gard getting soft, too . . .

LTE Published

My letter to the editor (below) was published in today's paper. It's the last letter, and was surprisingly un-edited (I did not link or include the blockquote that is in the version I published here), even though I was a good 15% over the 200-word limit.

Yay, me, I guess. We'll see if it does anything to keep McIlheran honest in the future.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

As long as we're talking Wisconsin voters . . .

The non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau has released its report on the state-wide voting problems, including potential fraud, in November, 2004.

What's that, you say? You mean there was fraud outside of Milwaukee? Oh, yes indeedy. And gosh, it sure was nice to see Republicans falling all over themselves to investigate it, eh? I won't belabor the details--others have, just check here--but I do want to pull in the newspaper's sidebar of the LAB's recommendations for improving voting accuracy:
Recommendations for improvement
The Legislative Audit Bureau recommended lawmakers consider changes that would:
  • Move up the cutoff date for registration so clerks have more time to prepare voter lists.
  • Establish tighter requirements for special registration deputies and prohibit them from being paid by the number of people registered.
  • Create uniform, statewide requirements for demonstrating proof of residence.
  • Authorize civil penalties for local election officials and municipalities not complying with the law.
  • Require mandatory election training for municipal clerks.
Notice what's missing from that list? Anyone? Anyone? Buel-ler? Bingo: photo ID.

Oh, sure, I suppose you could make that case that voter ID fits in to number three, there, the "uniform" requirements for "proof of address." But the non-partisan (I can't stress that enough) LAB did not say it had to be photo ID, proving once again that Republicans are pursuing an agenda based on stopping Democratic-voting minorities in Milwaukee from exercising the franchise. More than that, though, take a moment to skim over the recommendations of (Democratic) Governor Jim Doyle and (Democrat but elected non-partisanly) Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Both of them saw the same problems the LAB did and recommended the same sloutions--more and better-trained poll workers, restrictions on deputy registrars, and so on--at the same time Republicans were flogging voter ID bills. So one of two things is true:
  1. Republican legilsators are wrong.
  2. Everyone else--Democrat, independent, non-partisan--is wrong.
Any guesses whether the Republicans will apologize this time?

I hate to sound repetitive

But go vote for Bryan Kennedy right now, if you haven't yet. He's slipped to number ten--and only the top ten advance to the next round. Today is also the last day of voting, so it is extremely urgent! Vote Bryan !

UPDATE: Voting is closed. Finalists will be announced by Tuesday, it looks like--well, at least that's when the voting in round two starts. Last I saw, Bryan was still number 10 on the list, so there is hope! Since we have a few days, now is probably a good time to remind you of Bryan's website and this great interview.

Why won't they listen to me? I'm right more often than they are.

How many times have I said that Wisconsin's hiring of Andersen Consulting Accenture to do our voter list was a bad idea? It was a bad idea for Kevin Kennedy to sign the contract by himself, I said. After the lawsuit over the issue was tossed, I said this was a "mess turning into a disaster." The first rumblings of a delay in producing the voter lists elicited another frustrated post. Now, we have confirmation that Accenture will miss the January 1, 2006, federal deadline:
Changes in the statewide voter registration system won't be ready for a Jan. 1 federal deadline, state Elections Board officials said Friday.

A steering committee overseeing the testing of the new voter registration and election management software has decided the system is not ready, and the deadline to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 won't be met.

Testing of the system by Elections Board staff and volunteer clerks has shown there are too many system errors, said Kyle Richmond, public information officer for the Elections Board. [. . .]

County and municipal clerks expressed frustration Friday over the delays in the process, and some state legislators fear that missing the Jan. 1 deadline will jeopardize some or all of the $50.4 million the state expects to get from the federal government through voting act.
Sigh.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday Random Ten

The Snow Day Edition

1. "Keys to the Kingdom" The Nields from If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now
2. "The Bird or the Wing" Carrie Newcomer from The Bird or the Wing
3. "Desolation Row" Chris Smither from Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop
4. "Yesterday's News" Whiskeytown from Strangers Almanac
5. "Child of Hearts" Darryl Purpose from Travelers' Code
6. "Anyday" Derek and the Dominoes from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
7. "Worthy" Ani DiFranco from Not a Pretty Girl
8. "Steel Guitar" Fred Eaglesmith from 50 Odd Dollars
9. "Not Now John" Pink Floyd from The Final Cut
10. "Hex" Neko Case from The Tigers Have Spoken

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Kennedy, a Carnival, and a Contest

Let's start with Bryan Kennedy, the man who will defeat F. Jim Sensenbrenner in Wisconsin's fifth CD next fall. Before you go any further, click here and vote for Bryan in Democracy for America's poll about whom they should endorse first in the 2006 election cycle. Only the top ten (out of nearly 50 candidates) will advance to the next round of polling. As I write this, Bryan's in ninth place--good, but not great. If you haven't voted yet, do so, and then email all of your friends to do so as well.

Second, check out the ePluribusMedia inteview with Bryan, either at dKos with scores of good comments or at ePM itself. It's a long and wide-ranging discussion, but I thought this snippet really sums up why Bryan will be great in Congress and why he has a real shot at beating F. Jim:
I am not a "tax-and-spend" liberal. I am fiscally conservative and believe in balanced budgets. I believe that government can have a positive impact in people's lives. I live in a society and I expect to pay taxes. I do not want to overpay and I expect to receive a strong defense to keep my family safe, good schools for my children, good roads and transportation infrastructure, and a healthy environment, among other things. I pay good money and I want good quality. I have not seen my taxes go down under this administration, but the quality sure has. I am paying the same but getting less.

I believe that government needs to be responsible and I do not support government programs just to have a government program. I think there should be accountability; if a program does not meet its objective, we should ax it.

Lastly, I am more of a "think globally, act locally" kind of leader. I would like to have more of our federal programs outlined at the federal level but run and "fine-tuned" at the local level. We can meet the needs of people in Wisconsin better in Wisconsin by adapting federal guidelines to our specific needs.
For something completely different, the fifth edition of the Carnival of the Badger is up at Letters in Bottles. A slimmer selection this week, but some good reads.

Finally, we've hit the ten-week line of demarcation on the MKEonline Blog Contest. Since I won a weekly contest during the last ten weeks, I'm in the hopper for this round. You can vote for me if you like; I haven't decided yet who gets my vote.

McIlheran Watch: Lies, lies, lies

To the editor,

Patrick McIlheran has again embraced Republican talking points over facts in his September 14 column, "Red tape has no allegiance to blue or red." He deflects blame away from the Bush administration with misleading or incorrect assertions.

First, he notes the federal response to hurricane Katrina was better than the response to 1992's hurricanne Andrew. However, McIlheran neglects FEMA's better record under President Clinton and Clinton appointee James Lee Witt. Clinton noted in his autobiography "My Life" that after seeing the failure of FEMA under the political appointees of the George HW Bush, he vowed to do better:
I went to Florida a few days after President Bush did to observe the damage from Hurricane Andrew. I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor, including floods, droughts, and tornadoes, but I had never seen anything like this. I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handling the aftermath of the hurricane. Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won.
In appointing political allies Joe Allbaugh and Michael Brown to head FEMA, George W. Bush followed his father's lead, not Clinton's.

Second, McIlheran blames Democratic Louisiana governor Blanco for "dithering," when a non-partisan Congressional Research Service report released Tuesday noted that "the Governor did take the steps necessary to request emergency and major disaster declarations for the State of Louisiana in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina."

Finally, McIlheran's claim that "red and blue" didn't matter is belied by the actions of President Bush. USA Today reported Monday that Blanco tried desperately to telephone Bush after Katrina, while the Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, said "I never called him. He always called me." This certainly seems like red and blue matters, doesn't it?

As always,

Your humble folkbum

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Drinking Liberally

I had a bit of a Dorothy-waking-up feeling . . . "You were there, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you . . ."

Good times.

(Update: Scott has pictures.)

IA Governor Vilsack's Education Conversation

Welcome Advocates! Sometime before or after reading the piece below, would you mind going here and casting a vote for folkbum? Thanks.

A couple of days ago, I got an email from Kevin Thurman at Tom Vilsack's Heartland PAC, inviting me to join a conference call with the governor and other education bloggers today at 10:30 AM. Like most teachers I know, I am usually, um, teaching at 10:30 in the morning. However, as you may have noted from my post below, today God (jeebus, mother nature, the cosmic forces that hold our universe together, the flying spaghetti monster, whatever) apparently wanted me to talk to Governor Vilsack.

So I called in.

For a while, it looked like I would be the only one to make it, but it turns out that Doug from Education at the Brink also got through, with three of his students in an advanced speech class. His write-up is here. (Kevin told me the call was recorded and he'd post a transcript online; when he does, I'll update.)

As we waited for Governor Vilsack, I furiously scribbled out my questions, and Kevin explained what the Heartland PAC is. The PAC is focused on electing and supporting Democratic governors in the 38 state races over the next fourteen months. They will do this, in part, by using a series of "conversations" to gather input from people all over the country who both have good ideas to contribute and seldom get to be a part of the conversation. Once the "conversations are finished and the ideas collected, they will be sent to the 38 Democratic candidates for governor, and maybe other office-seekers as well. As Vilsack writes on the PAC's website,
This interactive effort is a call to action for Democrats to regain the mantle as the Party of ideas and to inspire bold new public policy around the values of opportunity, security and responsibility. [. . . G]overnors have a dramatic impact on public policy, influencing people’s lives in dramatic ways and forecasting the political future for both parties for decades to come.

None of this can be a reality without your ideas and your action. By electing new leadership at the state and local level, we pave the way to regain the majority status as a Party.

But to do this, we must close the idea and message gap. We invite you to become innovators and activists with us at Heartland PAC. Join the discussion, start your own discussions, and by doing so help us identify and develop the best ideas to share with candidates who want a different out come on Election Day.
This is the sort of effort I can get behind, especially given that, hey! I have good ideas and people never listen to me! But also because, as I told Gov. Vilsack, national and state-wide conversations about teaching and learning almost never include teachers.

The plan is to spend three or four weeks on education as the first of many of these "conversations" before moving on to discuss other topics of interest to candidates for governor. This week, unfortunately, is a week for discussing early childhood education, with elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education up in subsequent weeks. I don't know that much about early childhood education, though.

Governor Vilsack opened his part of the call with what sounded a lot like the Education Stump Speech, with a heavy emphasis on the potential competition American students face not just from each other but from developing countries. For every one university graduate in this country, Vilsack told us, there are three in China, and three more elsewhere in the developing world. That six-to-one ratio means that American students will be left in the dust if we remain complacent in this country about the quality of our educational system.

I got the first question--and at this point, I was confused about whether this conference call was part of the "conversation" or just about the conversation. At any rate, I got in a plug for the kind of self-organizing that some of us progressive education bloggers have been doing, specifically noting Joe Thomas's good work at pulling a group of us together to pool ideas and have a conversation that way. That Gov. Vilsack wants to tap into that same kind of grassroots, out-of-the spotlight discussion is a positive sign. It was here that I made my comment about teachers seldom being included in conversations about education policy.

Again, after I said that, the governor seemed to do some stumping, giving me a list of (quite good) things Iowa has done to improve, recruit, and retain quality teachers in Iowa's schools. I'll get back to this seeming stumpiness later.

Doug then asked about the testing mania that has gripped the country, and how we can get back to more authentic assessment (which was one of the questions I scribbled in haste before the call got going). Vilsack once again went to Iowa's success at using the Iowa Basic Skills Test flexibly under No Child Left Behind, and pointed out that only 90 of Iowa's 1000 public schools were in need of improvement. (By contrast, I think there may be 90 MPS schools alone on the list in Wisconsin . . .) But Vilsack did promote a three-point plan for moving away from standardized testing. First, he said, Americans need to understand those economic issues he talked about at the start of the call: If we are clearer on the impending economic juggernaut that is the developing world, we can get the idea that maybe this strong focus on testing is misplaced. Second, we need to develop stronger connections between students and their community. Finally, we need a focus on developing students' creativity and innovation in the early years, when they will profit most from the attention.

Finally, one of Doug's students asked a question about school prayer, which seems to be the focus of their speech class. Then the governor signed off, and I wandered off to lunch and a rare mid-afternoon chiropractic appointment.

As I thought about it after the conversation, my slight confusion from earlier returned: How does this conference call fit into the "conversation" plan? And, more importantly, how does the Heartland PAC fit into the next several election cycles? First of all, I didn't get to the list of concerns I had written at all--which is okay, I mean, the guy has a state to run--at least in part because there was a lot of stumping--which is also okay, since Vilsack is, after all, a politician, and that's what they do. But I never really felt like we got to the "conversation" part of the process.

Which is why I highly recommend the web discussions, instead; I think that part has the potential to be both quality and helpful to the Dem cause in 2006. I think the people putting the discussions know what they're doing and, assuming we participate, they will build some very good material.

However, the cynic in me is very aware that Tom Vilsack's name comes up often in talk about 2008. If he can help elect, through his Heartland PAC and projects like this one, a half-dozen or more Dem governors, he'll have lots of favors to call in. This may be why he spent a lot of time today talking up himself and what he's done, more than listening. We'll see.

At least now, should Vilsack be elected in 2008, I have an in for Secretary of Education . . .

Addendum: Here are the issues that I wanted to raise, but didn't have time to.
  • Testing--how can we build support for authentic assessment, since we know that standardized tests don't work as well. (This is the question Doug asked.)
  • There is, as I have shown here, a strong correlation between poverty and test scores, a correlation that exists regardless of per-pupil spending. Which ties into . . .
  • Problems of environment--we can rearrange teachers, students, buildings all we want, but we're still teaching the same students with the same teachers. And we still only have these students for 18% of their lives or less between birth and age 18. Schools cannot overcome all the problems of environment.
  • The threat of vouchers, always and everywhere.
  • Funding--I never got the chance to ask Governor Vilsack how Iowa pays for all of the great things that they do. (If I had the time or the Google monkeys I could probably find out.)

Snow Day!

Okay, really, a power-outage day. Much the same thing.

Of course, I wish someone would have told me before I got to school . . .

Newspaper story here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My president is Jed Bartlet

or, Is there a ribbon he could cut? Make him look presidential?

Reflecting on the last two weeks of hurricane Katrina, the press coverage, and the blame game as played by all sides, one overriding image keeps coming back to me: Martin Sheen, sitting on a cot in a midwestern school gymnasium, speaking to victims of a terrible tornado.

The plot of the episode of "The West Wing" is particularly foggy in my memory--I don't think I've seen it seen it was first-run--but the plot involved the fictional President Bartlet's insistence both that he go to the disaster site, and, once there, his refusal to leave. Bartlet's staff, exasperated, had to re-arrange a whole day's schedule to accomodate Bartlet's empathy and his take-charge attitude.

I have no idea what the death toll was in that fictional tornado, nor do I recall whether Bartlet's FEMA was as johnny-on-the-spot as we all hope FEMA can actually be in such a circumstance. But what I do recall was Bartlet's firm belief that it was his responsibility as president to make sure that something got done.

It is in striking contrast, then, with Bush's anemic response to Katrina. Whether or not real presidents can be seriously expected to meet the high expectations set by Jed Bartlet, it is clear that Bush did not insist that something got done. Barbara O'Brien, one of my daily reads, quotes from varied sources to paint a picture of Bush's, well, insistence on nothing:
[Time's] Mike Allen writes that former aides describe "enormous pressure on White House officials to take only the most vital decisions to Bush and let the bureaucracy deal with everything else." A "highly screened information chain" keeps Bush in a happy-news bubble. [. . .] Show me a boss who flies off the handle and gets verbally abusive when someone brings him bad news, and I'll show you a staff that tip-toes around the boss and hides problems from him until there's a full-blown disaster. I've seen this many times.

[Newsweek's] Evan Thomas provides another glimpse into the Bush management "style":
The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."
"Fix it." Yes, that's useful. But I suspect if the aides could have fixed "it," they would have.

What are we looking at, here? A president whose staff is afraid to bring him problems to solve, and when he finally is confronted with a problem, his "solution" is to order other people to solve it.

What exactly do we need a president for, exactly? Ribbon-cutting ceremonies?
The joke, of course, is that before leaving for vacation, Bush said that he needed the time off so that he could continue to make "good, crisp decisions." It was not a good decision to cut a cake with John McCain or play guitar (makes me ashamed to be a flatpicker). It was not a good decision to "fly over" the Gulf coast on his way back from vacation and let someone take that stupid picture. He was certainly not crisp in his bumbling speech ("one of the worst speeches of his life") full of cold numbers and lacking even a fraction of Jed Bartlet's compassion.

What went wrong? Was it just that all of Bush's support team was in the hospital with kidney stones or on vacation, so that no one was there to act on the good, crisp decisions he made between the IV and V chord? Or was it that Bush is pretty much incapable of rising to the kind of occasion that fictional presidents--and the Democratic Commanders in Chief they are based on--tackle with grace and gusto?

When Bush was elected in 2000, I wanted a bumper sticker in the mold of those "My president is Charlton Heston" stickers that treasonous NRA members sported through the Clinton years, a sticker that would read, "My president is Jed Bartlet." Bartlet, after all, never blew it.

Vote for Bryan!

I know you can't literally vote for Bryan Kennedy until 2006, but you can help give him a head start by voting for him in Democracy for America's poll for their first endorsement of thhe 2006 season.

Remember, Kennnedy's opponent is F. Jim Sensenbrenner, the man who refused to support American hurricane victims while seemingly having no problem supporting waste, fraud, and abuse in Iraq. This is a man who blows gaskets at his own constituents and lords it over his committee meetings.

Even though there are lots of good candidates on the list (vote Bryan!), c'mon. If you could pick just one bloated, out-of-touch, insensitive bastard from the House to toss out on his crazy behind, it would be Sensenbrenner, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?

Go vote for Bryan Kennedy.

Advocate weekly 9/12/05

Once again, a tip of the chalk to Joe Thomas for the new Advocate Weekly. So many good reads there, it's hard to know where to start. Maybe at the top?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Drinking Liberally, Milwaukee Style--Starts this week!


Wednesday, in fact. We'll be at Club Garibaldi in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood. More details over here.

Milwaukee's murders, a close personal call

Saturday, gunshots in an alley went through a wall at a former student's house. She is home now and doing well, and expects to be back at school later this week.

Wisconsin State Sen. Zien needs a smack with the clue stick

(Remember that the clue stick is metaphorical, Mr. Capitol Policeman.)

Think back to all those episodes of "Law and Order" you've seen. C'mon, the show is on for 751 hours every week; you must have seen at least one, right? The issue of attorney-client privilege (or doctor-patient, priest-penitent, you get the idea) comes up pretty often. When you're on TV for 751 hours a week, you recycle a lot of plots.

What's the one thing we all know about attorney-client privilege? That's right--if you should happen to confess to your attorney while someone else is in the room, you've voluntarily waived that privilege. Once the cat is out of the bag in front of the public, you're fair game.

Something like that is happening right now in Madison. State Sen. Dave Zien (R-Naboo) and Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford) are planning to introduce Concealed Carry v2.0. As they were perfecting their new version of the bill, they sought help from the gun lobyists who know best--the National Rifle Association. (You can get much of the backstory here.)

So here's the question: Should the drafts of the legislation partially written (or at least guided) by the NRA enjoy the same protection as bills not shown to outsiders? In other words, does the presence of the NRA in the bill-writing process void the "privilege" as happens in our "Law and Order" example?

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager wondered the same thing, and asked to see the drafts, to see how much the NRA really did contribute to the writing of the bill. When she asked, Zien and Gunderson basically said, "Thptptptpbt," and refused to turn over drafts of the bill. So Peg, with no additional tools at her disposal, sued:
"If she prevails, this institution would be turned upside down," said state Sen. Dave Zien. "It will be disastrous." [. . .] If Lautenschlager wins, lawmakers may start withholding bill drafts from lobbyists--a move that would create far more work for legislators because lobbyists commonly help write bills.

In cases where they continued to share bills, a victory by the state would mean people opposed to any number of controversial ideas would have a chance to peek at legislation before it is introduced.

"It takes a long time to do a draft, and if the public saw every little change, they would want more changes," Zien said. "The process would be so bizarre, so complex, so mixed up . . . It would be like having a public hearing every day."
Really, Senator? Which would be the "disaster": letting the public in on bills written by our elected officials, or keeping lobbyist-interests out? Smack.

State Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit) raised a more sensible concern: "If bills are made public before errors are fixed, she said, 'people may accuse you of wanting something in law that wasn't your intent at all.' " But Judy should let this one go. After all, she wrote one of my favorite essays archived over there at the Fighting Bob, a piece called "Legislation by Stopwatch":
My fellow Senate Democrats and I are fighting for transparency in the Wisconsin Legislature. "Transparency" describes the openness of institutions--the degree to which outsiders such as citizens or stockholders can monitor and evaluate the actions of insiders such as government officials or corporate managers.

Average citizens may find it impossible to know what goes on in the Legislature unless they hire their own personal lobbyists to track the issues that concern them. [. . .] This troubling practice is on the rise in the Legislature--rushing bill drafts to public hearing before they have been formally introduced. Until they are introduced in a house of the Legislature, bill drafts traditionally are for legislators' eyes only. They are not posted on the Legislature's Web site or other public access points. A citizen has no way to know what the bill says, unless he or she has an inside connection to the bill's author. [. . .]

Another troubling practice is to vote bills out of committee by ballot, away from the committee table, rather than in the full light of public scrutiny. Far too many chairs of committees are taking votes on important legislation in secret by what is known in the Capitol as "paper ballot."

Legislators have a duty to debate the merits of legislation in the full light of day. We should be required to justify our reasons for passing bills and to defend our reasons for opposing them. [. . .]

Republican leaders cite "efficiency" as the reason for these practices. They say they want to make government more efficient. Speeding up the process may be a virtue when it comes to making toothpaste, but when it comes to making public policy speeding up the process tends to shut people out.

As the Senate Democratic leader, I refuse to agree to legislate by stopwatch.
So here's your chance, Judy--and everyone else who feels that it is the duty of our public officials to make the writing of public policy as public as possible. Support Peg's lawsuit. Let's see the sausagemaking. Let's get pens away from the special-interest lobbyists.

Wisconsin can be a leader in clean, transparent government again. Go, Peg!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Worst "The Simpsons" Premiere Ever

I'm just saying.

One Teacher's 9/11 Reflections

It is hard to forget. The images are seared into my brain, the way staring at the sun leaves a clear bright hole when you close your eyes.

It is hard not to see the plane, from all angles, hitting the tower, not to see the towers collapsing downward, not to see the Manhattan skyline blurred by dust and smoke.

It is hard not to sit in my car and weep.


I wrote those words less than a week after September 11, 2001. I was still trying to come to grips with it all, and in my line of work--teaching--I'm the one who needs to be steady, stable, and able to carry on. If I fall to pieces, I also let down my students.

At the moment of death for hundreds of people thousands of miles away, I was scolding my first block students for their misbehavior. It seems petty now, the fury I felt because they couldn’t handle themselves in the Writing Lab. It was nothing compared to the fury yet to come.

“Mr. B., did you hear what happened?” Ms. M said as I came out of the stairway after class.

“What?” I may have been short with her. I try to smile all the time, but that first block had me pretty angry.

“There’s been an attack,” she said. “Terrorists hit the World Trade Center and the White House.” News was still sketchy at the time. “One of the kids heard it on the radio just now.”

Still unfocused, I said something I don’t even remember, and headed back to my room to get some work done.

When our principal came on the P.A. to announce the attacks to the whole school, I half listened. I tried to dial up NPR.com as I worked. Nothing. CNN.com wouldn’t come up either. At that point, I realized it must be serious. But I kept working; I needed to be ready for my afternoon classes.

Then I headed to the library to make some copies, and found the fuzzy but heart-stopping television. I could not take my eyes off of it—the replays of the plane; the towers falling, live as I watched; the stunning news that there may have been fifty thousand people in the towers. The town I went to college in had only thirty-five thousand residents. Fifty thousand dead was unfathomable.

There were other teachers there. The library television was a homing beacon for those of us without TVs in our rooms. We didn’t say much. It all added up to something too big to wrap my head around, too vast to understand, too incomprehensible even to think about.


Our district Superintendent came out later that day with some unmemorable pablum, about being honest but not alarmist with the kids. I mean, let's be honest: Milwaukee is not a terrorist target unless they badly overshoot Chicago.

Of course, the National Education Association would develop a website of resources for the one-year anniversary. (That site was widely criticized, by the way, for a balanced and reasonable approach to teaching about the day that seemed, to some conservatives, not jingoistic enough.) A summary:
Designed to be a comprehensive resource site for teachers [. . . t]hese study guides mirror themes of democracy, patriotism and freedom.

In addition to the lesson plans, the site will also feature the Patriot Pack - text from freedom inspiring documents like the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Another link, Voices of the Past, Visions for Tomorrow will include excerpts from some of America's most famous speeches, among them Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream, and Cesar Chavez's United We Stand.

"Our goal is to show the history of the United States, to highlight American values of tolerance, democracy and freedom," Newberry says.

Among the lesson plans on the new site is one designed for middle schools students (grades 6-8) called "Let It Begin With One", which shows how a single act of kindness reaches epidemic proportions if repeated twice by each recipient. A kindergarten class could send Liberty and Faith, two patriotically themed stuffed bears - and a journal - to find out how students in the other parts of the country responded to 9/11. A lesson plan for high school students encourages them to visit Web sites remembering the uniformed heroes of 9/11.
That was great for a year later. But what could I do right then?

I heard somebody on the radio describe the way everyone around was sleepwalking through the rest of that day. I know certainly I was just going through the motions. I was teaching Jane Eyre but my heart wasn’t in it. I was looking at classrooms full of children who themselves were subdued, sleepwalking.

I never felt unsafe, just unsettled. I felt as though I were watching my own life unfold on that fuzzy TV in the library.

The news that night was horrible to listen to, painful to hear. I am not ashamed to admit I had to take a time out from Peter Jennings and NPR to watch “The Simpsons.” Not all TV was all news.

I couldn’t think about grading homework. I couldn’t think about going to school the next day. I couldn’t think.

Lying awake in bed, after being up too late watching for the news that I knew would never come—that it didn’t really happen—I made a small decision.

Deep down, I’ve always imagined myself as the kind of English teacher Robin Williams would play in a movie, the kind of teacher who inspires students to rise above whatever depths life submerges them to and succeed beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. I take summer courses with inspirational teachers who convince me of the power of narrative and the need for students to do work that they can believe in. I envision my students in ten or twenty years remembering the little epiphanies that I hope come every day in my class.

September 11, 2001, I realized, was a teachable moment.


As an English teacher and as a writer, there is nothing quite so important to me as narrative.

As the events of September 11 and the days and weeks following unfolded—locally, nationally, internationally—I kept thinking about how, in the past decade, historians, librarians, archivists, students, teachers, and many others have been desperately hurrying to record the narratives of what Tom Brokaw has called “the greatest generation” before they are gone. Even I, as a student, participated in such a project at the college I attended; I interviewed a man who spoke eloquently of the “Where were you when . . ?” moments of his life, such as FDR’s first inaugural address and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

So by September 12, it was clear to me what to do: My students and I decided that we would chuck the tenth-grade curriculum in favor of working right now to record the stories of this generation’s “Where were you when . . ?” moment. “Everything is changing,” I told my students. “It is our responsibility—for if not ours, then whose?—it is our responsibility to chronicle how Milwaukee changes, how we change.” The students and I each have written our own stories, and many of the students have talked with others, old and young, about the events of that dark Tuesday and the way, like a top spinning out of control, the damage has spread and touched us all.

I needed the students to be with me. My tenth graders, many of them the same ones who drove me mad the morning before with their refusal to stop talking, could not stop talking the next day. I tried my best to answer their questions, everything from carefully giving them the facts that I knew to explaining the Taliban and badly drawing a map of the world between the Indian subcontinent and the Persian Gulf. They seemed ready to go along with me in my plan, so I broached the subject.

“I have an idea,” I said. “It won’t be easy for you and it sure won’t be easy for me. But I think we need to make this our curriculum. These short stories we were reading, they just don’t seem real anymore. How can we talk abstractly about plot when we have all just witnessed the most horrible rising action the world has seen in decades?”

To a one, the students agreed. How many just wanted to get out of doing the regular work? I don’t know. But we agreed. The web site (since taken down) that we made is a testament to that decision. And I was right: It was not easy.


See, without the strict regulation a class syllabus provides we all seemed, for a time, directionless. The world was too full of information about it all—and that information seemed to change by the minute—for students to really get a grip on it. Thinking, day in and day out about the overwhelming scope of a disaster that touched us from so many miles away took its toll. Some students just were not ready to put so much of themselves into researching and telling stories as the task called for. Even I found myself wishing we were doing vocabulary instead. But we came out the other side stronger, I think.

The students were sick of talking, reading, and writing about the whole thing within a week. They were furious at the extent to which I made them re-do, revise, and rethink their work. They could not understand why there were so many stupid little steps to making a web page.

But as the site began to come together, and they could see the enormity of what they had collectively accomplished, they came around.

Among other things, I learned that chucking a curriculum in favor of following a teachable moment—even if it’s the biggest teachable moment any of us will see in our lifetimes—is much harder than it looks.

I learned that the server can and will crash at the least opportune times.

I learned that students don’t know how to spell the word terrorist.

I learned much, and I am not afraid to do it all again. I just hope I never have to.

[First published on September 11, 2003, at the soon-to-be defunct Open Source Politics. Cross-posted today at Liberal Street Fighter]

Friday, September 09, 2005

The most important news of the day

Buried under the "Yes you did" "No I didn't" Katrina news today comes a fourth-circuit decision that has ramifications for us all. In the case of United States citizen Jose Padilla, the court ruled that Americans taken into custody on U. S. soil canbe held indefinitely, without charge, as enemy combatants, if the president says so:
In an opinion written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, who has been considered by President Bush for a nomination to the Supreme Court [!!!!!!], the panel said Mr. Bush had the right to detain Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant under the powers granted the president by Congress after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.

"The exceedingly important question before us is whether the president of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with Al Qaeda, an entity with which the United States is at war," Judge Luttig wrote. "We conclude that the president does possess such authority," citing the Congressional authorization. [. . .]

Jonathan M. Freiman, a New Haven lawyer who represents Mr. Padilla, said that he would appeal Friday's ruling. He said it was a "a sad day for the nation when a federal court finds the president has the power to detain indefinitely and without criminal charge any American citizen whom he deems an enemy combatant."
Not that I think I expect to be declared an enemy combatant any time soon, but this is of grave concern, that fundamental Bill of Rights protections can be overridden by the execitive if it wants to do so. I am very interested to see what the "literalists" or "originalists" whatever the Scalia-Thomas wing of the Supreme Court is calling itself these days makes of this very clear affront to Amendments four, five, six, and eight.

Moreover, dKos diarist (and someone who sounds like he knows what he's talking about) cwech writes that
Luttig's decision seems based nearly in its entirety on a gross misreading of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Luttig argues:
because, like Hamdi, Padilla is an enemy combatant, and because his detention is no less necessary than was Hamdi's in order to prevent his return to the battlefield, the President is authorized by the AUMF to detain Padilla as a fundamental incident to the conduct of war.
But while Luttig proceeds with such bizarre arguments that the Court upheld the right of the President to detain American citizens as "enemy combatants," a reading of the decision in Hamdi [.pdf] tells us that they quite clearly ruled that Hamdi must be allowed basic due process rights in accordance with the 5th and 6th Amendments, but Luttig clearly seems to think that they ruled the opposite.
We hold that although Congress authorized the detention of combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged here, due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decision maker.
Thus in accordance with the Hamdi decision the 4th Circuit should have ruled that Mr. Padilla cannot be detained without due process and the President must allow him to challenge his detention, see the body of evidence against him, and speak with a lawyer. None of these are rights that have been accorded to Padilla, and the 4th Circuit seems to have a difficult time comprehending their existence.
Should this decision be allowed to stand, it means that none of us would be guaranteed full due process rights should we somehow designated enemy combatants. This decision seems not to care that Padilla's trial has not been speedy, that the government has been throwing up many accusations against him to see what sticks, and that he (and the attorney he can't talk to) have no idea what evidence the government has against him. Despite all of these things, Luttig ruled, Padilla ought be just fine in his hearing with a "neutral decision maker"--i.e., possibly not even a hearing in a court of law.

Yes, yes, I know I have particular distaste for this administration and its policies, but this is something that any freedom-loving Bush supporter (which, gentle readers, may not actually be an oxymoron) also ought to be appalled about. Imagine the outrage had Bill Clinton decided that Paula Jones was an enemy combatant, or Ken Starr. (Sure, it seems unlikely, but not any more unlikely than the Jerry-Falwell hawked story that the Clintons were kingpins of Arkansas's murder and drugs empire.) And, sure, I trust President Feingold not to go around declaring this or that person to be enemy combatants, but I bet many Republicans don't.

Put simply, this decision runs exactly counter to every single inclination in the Bill of Rights, and the notions of limited and reasonable federal power in the rest of the Constitution. And it was written by a man who many believe to be a top contender for the Supreme Court.