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Friday, June 30, 2006

Prism Lawsuit Baseless; Newspaper Still Makes Doyle Look Guilty

Conservatives and Republicans across the state went all kinds of giddy earlier this week when a development firm sued the state, blaming the much-maligned former Administration Secretary--now campaign chair--for Jim Doyle, Marc Marotta, for their having lost a building contract with UW-Milwaukee. Fraley, for example, flat-out claimed that Marotta intervened, contra what Marotta told the witch hunt State Finance Committee and the law.

However, no such thing occured:
At Wednesday's commission meeting, [Sen. Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh)] said the commission itself, rather than Marotta, was responsible for ending negotiations with Prism. "It was our decision as a Building Commission. . . . We were dissatisfied with the process. And when we looked into the process more and more we said, 'This process we cannot support,' " she said at the meeting.

Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) agreed that the commission was displeased with the negotiations, but also noted that commissioners have little say in building projects because they do not select vendors. Instead, they take up-or-down votes on bidders selected by evaluation committees. "These are very complex issues--complex deals--that are put together and we literally get two days to look at them," Fitzgerald said.
So here we have two Republicans who were there, not just watching from the sidelines, who confirm Marotta's story and who place the blame not on any intervention by Doyle or Marotta on behalf of campaign contributors, but on Prism--the development company that has filed the lawsuit. See, Prism broke the rules and, after following the state law and their own sense of ethics, the commission overseeing the bidding process for this project unanimously called for a do-over.

Yet the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is reporting that the Republicans on the commission support Doyle and Marotta's claims that nothing improper happened, doesn't headline the story "Republicans defend action of Doyle aid." That would make sense, right? Gives you a good sense of what the politically significant news within the story might actually be.

No, the paper decided to call it, "Doyle defends actions of aide in UWM project." The sub-head, "Commission made the final call, he says," makes it even worse: If all you read was the headline--and maybe the lede--you wouldn't know at all that the commission itself is defending Marotta and saying that they made "the final call." Sure, Doyle repeated what the Republican members of the commission said, but Doyle's saying it isn't what makes it news. Instead, it looks like stonewalling or, worse, covering up, from Doyle. That leaves room for the right Cheddarsphere and the talk-show bloviators to keep spinning this, keep the story of a "corrupt" Jim Doyle alive for a few more days.

That kind of enabling needs to stop.

Deadline Today

• Give through ActBlue
• Don't forget $30 by the 30th--which blew past its goal this week

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Wisconsin Conservatives Miss Job Growth Forest for Petty Trees

Something caught my eye today; it was, indeed, a series of entries in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Daywatch." Consider:
  • Direct Supply add hundreds of jobs
    Direct Supply Inc., one of the country's largest suppliers to the nursing home industry, is moving forward with plans for a major expansion that will add hundreds of jobs to its corporate headquarters on Milwaukee's northwest side.
  • Stark Investments expanding downtown
    Stark Investments LP is expanding beyond its lakefront headquarters in St. Francis with a new operation at downtown's 1000 North Water office tower. [. . .] Stark Investments, a hedge fund operator, will eventually have around 85 to 90 employees in that space, with around 50 employees working at 1000 North Water by this fall, Bob DiDonato, chief administration officer, said today.
  • UnitedHealth call center to add 1,000 jobs
    UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) today announced it will open a call center in Green Bay that will create 1,000 jobs this year and next.
Missing from the Daywatch is any news of jobs hemorrhaging from the state. If all you listened to was the state GOP--or right-wing bloggers and talk radio--you'd think that Wisconsin jobs were disappearing faster than--well, you can fill in the analogy for yourself.

It doesn't take long to dig up more stories like this from the past couple of days: Here's good news from Oshkosh, for example, and Wisconsin's Badger Mining is, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, the best small company in America to work for.

Sure, there was some slight bad news; Honda didn't choose the late-getting-into-the-mix Walworth County for its new plant. And no, none of the good job news stories seem to have the kick (perhaps a kick resulting from right-wingers' hype) of a RedPrairie whine or a LoPresti tease, but they are good news that deserve trumpeting just as much. I bet you a nickel you won't hear a peep about UHC's expansion or any of the other stories on your conservative radio tomorrow, or, for that matter, from the right half of the Cheddarsphere.

The good news doesn't fit their agenda, or their worldview. They are sure that Wisconsin's high taxes are killing us, and not softly. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the business lobby, even went so far as to offer their solution--tax cuts, tax cuts, and (if you couldn't guess) tax cuts. (Hat tip to Xoff on that.) Paul Soglin, who eats WMC for breakfast, has been on WMC about its ridiculous tax stance (see this post, for example) as well as their gloomy doom predictions if they can't get their way. Watch him for more about this later, I'm sure.

Do I think that the loss of a company like RedPrairie is a bad thing? Of course I do--and, I bet, if the ownership had stayed with the Wisconsinites who founded the company, its leaving wouldn't even be a question. Is it too bad the Manitowoc won't get a new plant? Yes, but when you're one of 75 cities competing, you have to know the odds; it doesn't help that the company's spokesman may be a hypocritical publicity hound.

None of the conservatives' and Republicans' whining does anything to actually help job creation (the negative energy they create probably hurts it), and does nothing to actually address immediate challenges like Milwaukee's endemic poverty.

Mostly, though, the whining proves only one thing: Ignorance of reality in service of ideology is the ultimate state of being for Wisconsin GOP.

Some randomness, since I'm skipping Drinking Liberally tonight

First, give.

Among the good articles about my life in the paper lately, here's a good one on special education. If you really, really want to know where the money's going, it's going to make up for what the underfunding of IDEA legislation has done to districts like mine.

David Riemer and Deborah Blanks had an op-ed last weekend, "It's time to get serious about reducing poverty in Milwaukee":
[A]lready, several directions seem clear:

• First, we need to do a far better job of helping poor, unemployed, single adults--mostly men and disproportionately minorities--find jobs. Tragically, the only systematic program that provides some of these men with work, adequate nutrition and affordable housing is the Wisconsin prison system, and we can't bear to see more of our young men go to prison.

• Second, we need to take a look a good hard look at whether or not there are enough jobs to go around in the regular economy. If not, we should look at options to get people work experience and entry into the work force. [. . .]

• Third, we need to strengthen our system of work supports. The mechanisms in place for training the unemployed and placing them in jobs in the private sector leave much to be desired.

The Earned Income Tax Credit has proved to be a successful tool for encouraging the unemployed to take jobs and making work pay for those who do. But the EITC does almost nothing for childless adults, and its phase-out inadvertently creates a work disincentive and a marriage penalty for those trying to move higher up the job ladder.

And finally, tens of thousands of Milwaukeeans have no health insurance, which makes it hard for unemployed persons with health problems to find work.
I've written before about the unavoidable correlation between poverty and challenges in education. I'm working on more about that, once I get some more sources in order about it. I'm not convinced that a "serious" conversation ever solved anything, but talking about the problem--and how, specifically, to address the four things Riemer and Blanks note above--is better than just having the problem.

Health care in Milwaukee is still expensive.

Did I mention, you should give?

Here's as concise a summary as I've ever read of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney's, um, relationship.

I'm thinking it's time for a massive Cheddarsphere blogroll update. I have a long list of new Wisconsin lefties that I need to cement in place, and some others I know need to be removed for inactivity. Lemme know of anyone I should add.

Diet update (for those of you wondering): 21 pounds.

Who likes rabbits?

I have need of a rabbit sitter for a couple of weeks later this summer. Anyone interested in hosting a house rabbit for a while?

Three Days

That is, three days until the end-of-quarter filing deadline for candidates. You may not think, in the grand scheme of things, that giving right now--as opposed to next wek, or at the end of next month or whenever--is important, but it is, for two reasons. The first is the money makes money. Every dollar raised early in a campaign is a dollar that can be used early to raise name recognition, recruit new volunteers, and, indeed, solicit bigger fish for contributions. The second reason is the press; when a candidate comes in with a very big number, especially if it's higher than expected, there can be a lot of buzz around that candidate, and that can generate good results and even national attention in some cases.

So, here you go:
• My ActBlue page, with a whole lot of state, local, and federal Democratic candidates that I feel deserve your dough
• ActBlue's list of all the Democratic candidates for the House
• A special ActBlue page where you can be a sponsor of a Feingold event for Bryan Kennedy
• Fair Wisconsin's $30 by the 30th still needs you, as well--they seem to be about $3500 short of their goal

Also, don't forget that you have just another day or two to vote for Bryan Kennedy in Mark Warner's Mapchangers competition. Click that link (or the ad to your right) and vote for Bryan in the West division. If Bryan makes the top ten, Warner's PAC will kick in some cash, some publicity, and, if Bryan makes the top five, he'll also fly out here for some personal appearances.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

SpiceWatch: The Flub That Wasn't

I don't think I'll send McIlheranWatch on vacation for the summer, or anything, but here's an extra-special Russ Feingold-related edition of SpiceWatch.

The Spice Boys (who read local blogs "so you don't have to") branch out to read a national blog about a local guy. In a post titled "Feingold Flub," they write,
The good news is that Feingold has liberal bloggers from coast to coast singing his praises during his quixotic run for the White House. On top of that, he gets real face time on Meet The Press.

The bad news is that conservative bloggers also are hanging on Feingold's every word, looking for him to step in it.

The result: The National Review Online may have caught the junior senator from Wisconsin making a factual mistake during his recent appearance on Meet the Press.
When (if, since the whole point is "so you don't have to") you click through, you find, in fact, that Feingold did no such thing.

The NRO blogger tries to spin it that way, though, and Spivak and/ or Bice have bought it. Here's what Feingold said on "Meet the Press":
You know, Tim, today it was announced that a guy named Hassan Dahir Aweys is now the head of the government that has taken over in Mogadishu in Somalia. He is on the State Department’s terrorist list. He is known as an al Qaeda operative, or somebody that is connected with al Qaeda. While we were asleep at the switch, while we were bogged down in Iraq, while we were all focused on Iraq as the be all and end all of our American foreign policy, we are losing the battle to al Qaeda because we’re not paying attention. I asked [Coordinator for Counter Terrorism in the State Department] Ambassador [Henry] Crumpton at a hearing the other day, how many people in our federal government are working full time on the problem in Somalia? He said one full time person. We’ve spent $2 million in Somalia in the last year while we’re spending $2 billion a week in Iraq. This is insanity if you think about what the priorities are of those who have attacked us and those who are likely to attack us in the future.
None of that, based on the transcript of the Senate hearing that NRO quotes extensively, is untrue. The NRO is trying to pretend Russ said something more than he did. Here's the Senate hearing:
SEN. FEINGOLD: How many people does the State Department have working on Somalia full-time? I just want the full-time figure.

MR. CRUMPTON: Yes, sir. There is one dedicated Foreign Service officer in Nairobi that looks at Somalia, but there are a multitude of others, not just in the State Department but across the U.S. government, that work the issue.
When Feingold says there is one full-time person on Somalia, that's exactly what he was told by the ambassador. Full-time staff is a measure of how seriously the feds take the problem; clearly, a decade after "Blackhawk Down," Somalia has essentially slipped from the radar screen, despite the occasional task force. We're letting terrorists have a safe haven while we fritter away Iraq--and, as Russ has been talking about all along, that's not the way to run our foreign policy or our national security. We need to be where the terrorists actually are, doing everything we can to stop them. The nonsense notion that we're fighting them in Iraq so that we don't fight them here is belied every time al Qaida hits a Western target or we bust a terror cell on US soil.

When will the Bush administration start fighting the "war on terror" they so care about?

And when will the Spice Boys learn that passing off half-assed insinuations is about as close to real journalism as I am to winning "American Idol"?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Je ne suis pas mort

It's all about the summer job and the World Cup. (Aside: You gotta like Ukraine as the underdog and all, but the Swiss played 400 minutes without giving up a goal--it doesn't really seem fair.)

In the meantime, we're just moments away from the end of the second quarter reporting period for candidate contributions. My ActBlue page is all set for you--give to one, some, or all of the candidates there. Please.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Unsolicited Plug

If you need auto repair work, try Knepper Brothers, on KK. They did the work at less than half the price the dealer wanted and got it finished a day early, too.

Now, if only I can get 140,000 miles on the new clutch . . .

McIlheran Watch: RedPrairie BullCrap

(McIlheran blog readers, see update below.)

Wednesday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial page features the twice-weekly befouling that is Patrick McIlheran's column. This week, it's about the anti-tax conservative outrage du jour:
John Jazwiec, boss of Waukesha's Red-Prairie, is the latest to say so, spectacularly, by warning that his star software company might leave.

This could be a bluff. But maybe not: Want to bet the state's future on it?

High taxes are the "5,000-pound elephant in the room" for businesses, Jazwiec told Journal Sentinel reporter Kathleen Gallagher last week. There are the taxes on businesses. There's his sense that no one in politics is listening. And the state's high-tax reputation makes it harder to recruit talent. [. . .]

If this state and region want to keep the culture we have, our leaders need to stop excusing their expenses and start offering taxpayers a better deal.
Xoff gives us a more complete picture. RedPrairie is a successful (if obscure) software company built in Wisconsin by Wisconsin workers. It is now owned by a California consortium, which installed Jazwiec--also from California--as its CEO. As it turns out, Jazwiec has a long history of calling Wisconsin (which built his company into a success) a "socialist state" and jokes about the "hammer and sickle" on our flag.

And now, this California boy with California bosses is threatening (and not for the first time) to leave. Any guesses he might take the company to . . . California?

Seems like Wisconsin's conservatives ought to be mad at Jazwiec, for his wanting to undo the success of a Wisconsin company built on Wisconsin labor and Wisconsin smarts. Nothing against the great state of California (except, of course, their theft of our dairy dominance), but this isn't high taxes driving a company out; this is poaching.

Update, 6/23: P-Mac takes offense at my use of the word "obscure," above. Three points: One, be honest--had you heard of RedPrairie before this? Do you use their software? Two, I have not tried, as P-Mac asserts ("doubters chimed in: It’s only 200 jobs at an 'obscure' company," he writes, badly paraphrasing what I wrote)to minimize the loss the company would mean to the local economy. Three, P-Mac does not address the substance of my post; I guess he figures that giving his readers an inaccurate impression of what I said is enough.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Milwaukee's Graduation Rate is Double that of Detroit

At least, that's the best spin I can come up with from this:
Education Week, a widely read education industry weekly publication, released results Tuesday of an analysis aimed at determining how likely a student entering ninth grade was to graduate with a conventional diploma at the end of the fourth year in high school.

For Wisconsin [.pdf], the figure was 80.6%, the fifth-highest rate in the United States. The national average was 69.6%.

But for Milwaukee, it was 43.1%, the fourth-lowest figure among the 50 largest school districts. Detroit (21.7%), the Baltimore city school district (38.5%) and New York City (38.9%) were the only ones with lower rates.
I didn't write about this yesterday when it first hit the wire, because I wanted to dig a little deeper and that takes time. Some (like fellow MPS teacher The Game) see this as a sign of weakness on my part, an accession that I won't "defend failing socialism." I'm not entirely sure what that means.

But what I am sure of is that the lede--and even a bit of the analysis at the bottom of the article--tell only a part of the story available by doing the digging. For one, I had to find the USA Today story to learn that the study was paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, of course, has no interest at all in high school graduation rates. And the reading at Education Week itself is quite interesting.

I do need to point out that one critical flaw in the study is that it uses a four-year timeline for judging graduates. While that may work for most schools and students, a considerable number of MPS students are, in fact, on the five-year plan. (My school also graduated four juniors in its ceremony this month--students who would not be counted in the study.) The study also does not count any students who might have gone someplace like MATC for a GED (my school will have a GED program in it next year, in fact). MPS's statistics, which showed a graduation rate closer to 60% for the years covered, take those into consideration, and I think that provides a different picture. Whether you call the graduation rate 40% or 60%, though, it is abysmally low, and there's no way to avoid saying that. (I have never claimed otherwise.)

But the full picture shows how much Milwaukee's problems are indicative not of some unique failures of the city or of MPS, but of urban districts across the country. When you look at the full list of large districts produced by the study, the best-performing districts are not cities at all: Fairfax County, VA, for example, is a wealthy suburban area outside of DC; to put it on a list with Detroit and Milwaukee is misleading.

This graph, however, is not misleading. What it shows, quite clearly, is that once students get out of middle school in high-poverty districts--middle schools that are more likely to employ social promotion than high schools--the problems become manifest. Kids get stuck in ninth grade because they come in with low skills and bad habits and, according to the study, more than a third of dropouts happen in ninth grade. (Nearly two-thirds happen by tenth grade.) I wrote about this yesterday: High school is not necessarily where the worst problems happen, but it is where the effects become clear. That leads many people--including, in today's Journal Sentinel story, deputy state superintendent Tony Evers, not to mention Bill Gates himself--to think that tinkering around with high schools will make a big difference. It won't; it can't--not unless the community sends us something different out of middle school.

But back to my point about this being a national urban problem. This .pdf from the study includes the info that majority-minority and highly-segregated districts (like Milwaukee) fall far below the national average for graduation rates. The same for high-poverty districts. A lot of people on the right like to remind us the poverty is not a barrier to education, but rather that education is the ticket out of poverty. And I agree that we cannot make the post hoc fallacy of automatically thinking that because high-poverty districts have the worst stats that the poverty is the cause. But it is clear that the correlation does exist, and investing more and more in urban schools isn't having the effect desired. Tinkering with the design or make-up of the schools isn't doing it, either. There is something deeper.

Consider these stats from the story:
As in other studies, the Education Week analysis found large gaps in the graduation rates between white students and black or Hispanic students, as well as a substantial gap between girls (72.7% nationally) and boys (65.2%).

The national rates were 76.2% for white students, 55.6% for Hispanic students and 51.6% for African-American students. For Wisconsin, the comparable figures were 85.4% for whites, 49.1% for Hispanics and 44.3% for blacks.

Combining the gender and race gaps showed one important focus of the high school graduation problem: African-American males. The statewide African-American graduation rate was 36.7% for boys, 50.1% for girls, according to the new figures. Nationwide, the comparable figures were 44.3% for boys and 57.8% for girls.
Remember that the vast majority--I think it's something like 90%--of African-American students in Wisconsin are in MPS. On the one hand, it's comforting to know that we're not significantly worse than the national average; on the other, it's disturbing to know that this is the national trend.

My fellow teacher the Game, in the post of his I linked above, lauches this tirade:
Liberals, you care about human rights and the poor??? Why are you doing nothing about this?
Throwing money doesn't work, blaming white people doesn't work...and all this crap that educators come up with doesn't work.

If entire communities refuse to be productive citizens in society and refuse to act in a civilized manner, than does it matter if we make every floor of a high school its own separate "learning community"....NOPE....
Does the latest way to teach reading work when a kid comes to school two days a week? NOPE...
I am sick and tired of EVERYONE ignoring the real problem.
The communities these kids come from are rotten, polluted from the inside out...
Get Cosby in there, get Sharpon [sic] out...get some personal responsibility and pride...get all the PC liberals out of there enabling them to fail with all their social programs and excuses that do NOTHING, and have done NOTHING since they were started...
If all this socialism that liberals love works, where are the results.
This must be where his "failing socialism" accusations come from. I do agree that there must be change in the community, but I don't think it's enough to make these kinds of near-racist rants about Milwaukee. The change has to be a re-commitment to the idea of public education, and not just among those who fund it (which is key), but among those whose children participate in it. That simply can't happen when the problems of Milwaukee exist as they do. And I'm not talking about social welfare or food stamps as being problems; I'm talking about the economic conditions that exist and continue to worsen that make those things necessary.

Milwaukee needs revitalization as a community before its schools can fully turn around, and, I'm sad to say, it seems the rest of the state doesn't much care. The other big story in the paper this morning is a Dickensian tale of how many people see Milwaukee as waning, and, well, good riddance, say the emigrés. But some people make the same point that I do:
"I think you can't let it drip, drip, drip. At some point, you erode your entire economic and social fabric," said Greg Shelko, formerly the assistant director of the Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority. In June 2004, Shelko moved from Milwaukee to Tucson, Ariz., where he is the downtown development director.

To stem Milwaukee's population decline, Shelko said, "you have to continually create reasons for people to embrace the city and want to stay there, if not attract them to move there. Certainly, economic development, an emphasis on growing the employment base is critical. Improving the quality of life is also critical."

Dave Schulz, the former Milwaukee County executive, who now lives in northern Illinois, said population losses in Milwaukee won't be stopped until employment losses are reversed. "In this chicken-and-egg thing, you've got to get jobs first to bring the people back," said Schulz, director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "In order to have a place for jobs, you've got to have the work force, infrastructure.

"To say that Milwaukee schools are troubled is an understatement," he added. "It's not necessarily their fault. They are dealing with dysfunctional families, societal issues. The bottom line is employers have to be confident that they can attract a work force commensurate with their needs. Those needs will be education sensitive."
I don't have a solution. (I'm just a blogger; give me a break.) But there is one out there, and it isn't one that limits itself to rearranging the furniture in schools. That means to start being constructive, we need to stop placing all the blame on the schools, and start looking at what, systemically, we can do to solve Milwaukee's problems.

Let's play . . . Debunk the Myth!

In comments to this post of mine, where I lay out just two of the differences between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to scandal, Clint (of Milwaukee Id10t fame) repeats some myths that I feel need front-page debunking:
Harry Reid is still in a leadership position (Abrahmof scandal) Hillary Clinton still hasn't 'found' any Rose Law Firm records... Gwen gets arrested by a foreign gov't, prohibits jobs creation and still has a job.

Doyle still has the gaming $$ and travel $$.

Delay stepped down on his own accord, no one HAD to vote him out of his position. Are you sure about this post? I think that you may have this backwards.
One at a time . . .
  • Reid and Abramoff: The meida--and one Associated Press reporter, in particular--have consistently misrepresented Reid's connections to Jack Abramoff, usually leaving out the fact that Reid voted consistently against Abramoff's interests. It's worth noting that "[a] search of Reid's donations over the last 15 years shows that the Gambling/Casino industry/sector have been his largest donors in most every cycle." It's natural, then, that tribes represented by Abramoff might continue to contribute to Reid. What's more, many of the contributions Abramoff directed were done to increase his own clout with the tribes, not to win influence with politicians. But the most important thing to remember about Abramoff's clients is this:
    A new and extensive analysis of campaign donations from all of Jack Abramoff’s tribal clients, done by a nonpartisan research firm, shows that a great majority of contributions made by those clients went to Republicans. The analysis undercuts the claim that Abramoff directed sums to Democrats at anywhere near the same rate. [. . . T]he Morris and Associates analysis, which was done exclusively for The Prospect, clearly shows that it’s highly misleading to suggest that the tribes's giving to Dems was in any way comparable to their giving to the GOP. The analysis shows that when Abramoff took on his tribal clients, the majority of them dramatically ratcheted up donations to Republicans. Meanwhile, donations to Democrats from the same clients either dropped, remained largely static or, in two cases, rose by a far smaller percentage than the ones to Republicans did. This pattern suggests that whatever money went to Democrats, rather than having been steered by Abramoff, may have largely been money the tribes would have given anyway.
  • Hillary and the Rose Law Firm: Here's a long quote, but worth the full read:
    Even more damning was a "Nightline" report broadcast that same evening. The segment came very close to branding Hillary Clinton a perjurer. In his introduction, host Ted Koppel spoke pointedly about "the reluctance of the Clinton White House to be as forthcoming with documents as it promised to be." He then turned to correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who posed a rhetorical question: "Hillary Clinton did some legal work for Madison Guaranty at the Rose Law Firm, at a time when her husband was governor of Arkansas. How much work? Not much at all, she has said."

    Up came a video clip from Hillary's April 22, 1994, Whitewater press conference. "The young attorney, the young bank officer, did all the work," she said. "It was not an area that I practiced in. It was not an area that I know anything, to speak of, about." Next the screen filled with handwritten notes taken by White House aide Susan Thomases during the 1992 campaign. "She [Hillary] did all the billing," the notes said. Greenfield quipped that it was no wonder "the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster's office when he killed himself."

    What the audience didn't know was that the ABC videotape had been edited so as to create an inaccurate impression. At that press conference, Mrs. Clinton had been asked not how much work she had done for Madison Guaranty, but how her signature came to be on a letter dealing with Madison Guaranty's 1985 proposal to issue preferred stock. ABC News had seamlessly omitted thirty-nine words from her actual answer, as well as the cut, by interposing a cutaway shot of reporters taking notes. The press conference transcript shows that she actually answered as follows: "The young attorney [and] the young bank officer did all the work and the letter was sent. But because I was what we called the billing attorney -- in other words, I had to send the bill to get the payment sent -- my name was put on the bottom of the letter. It was not an area that I practiced in. It was not an area that I know anything, to speak of, about."

    ABC News had taken a video clip out of context, and then accused the first lady of prevaricating about the very material it had removed. Within days, the doctored quotation popped up elsewhere. ABC used the identical clip on its evening news broadcast; so did CNN. The New York Times editorial page used it to scold Mrs. Clinton, as did columnist Maureen Dowd. Her colleague William Safire weighed in with an accusatory column of his own: "When you're a lawyer who needs a cover story to conceal close connections to a crooked client," he began, "you find some kid in your office willing to say he brought in the business and handled the client all by himself." Safire predicted the first lady's imminent indictment.

    What really made the story take off, however, was White House aide Carolyn Huber's belated discovery of missing Rose Law Firm billing records that had been under subpoena by the OIC. [. . .] The records' contents also supported Hillary's testimony and public statements in detail. [. . .]

    Starr's investigators would spend years seeking evidence to the contrary, with no success.
    As you can see, not only did the law firm records turn up, they exonerated Clinton of any wrongdoing--despite the attempts of your liberal media to make her look guilty.

  • Gwen Moore: Clint thinks Moore should resign because she was arrested protesting the genocide in Darfur. And he thinks she should resign because she--along with many others--thought that millions of tax dollars' worth of investment in the Menominee Valley deserved better employers than one that is primarily seasonal. It's a subject on which reasonable people might disagree; I personally thought BuySeasons should have been in, but they pulled out anyway for reasons unrelated to Moore's protests.

  • Doyle: It is true that Doyle, perhaps in the spirit of good will or something, could return the donations, though no one has proven he did anything wrong--or that contributions influenced him. To be fair, Democrats have called for Doyle to make those returns. I myself have called for Doyle to fire anyone even remotely linked to scandals in his administration and run on a responsibility platform against Green, who hasn't given back his DeLay money (how many Republicans have suggested he do that?). But in digging around to make sure I had my facts straight on Abramoff, I found an editorial from the libertarian Cato Institute:
    Here's the troubling thing about this little ritual of returning donations. The standard of proof in public debates seems to be guilt-by-association. If Mr. Abramoff was a crook, everyone associated with him, including people who received legal contributions from him or his clients, is also guilty of wrongdoing. If Enron executives bilked investors, politicians share the blame. Given that reasoning, only a very public renunciation of the (monetary) tie to the wrongdoer holds out hope of acquittal.

    My generation grew up in the shadow of McCarthyism. Our teachers warned us that guilt-by-association drove the hysteria that did so much damage to our First Amendment freedoms. Now it appears that guilt-by-association is an unquestioned standard in the court of public opinion. Certainly the politicians giving back donations believe so. The media and everyone else simply assume the validity of the new standard.

    To be sure, guilt-by-association is a great weapon for demonizing and destroying one's opponents. It does less well at fostering civility, the rule of law, fairness or a respect for fundamental political rights. Perhaps those shortcomings should be kept in mind as official Washington readies itself to indulge once again in the pleasures of populist fury.
    Something to think about.

  • Tom DeLay: While DeLay didn't have to be convicted before he resigned from Congress (a la Duke Cunningham), his resignation was timed just right. Consider: DeLay had been indicted already; one in four primary voters told him they wanted him out; his internal poll numbers showed the race to be "too close for comfort"; and the Texas Republican Party believed that if DeLay moved out of his Texas District, they could replace him on the ballot, giving them a chance to keep the seat. That last bit is what makes it suspicious . . .

    But there is a more important point in the DeLay mess that directly relates to the point of the post Clint was responding to in the first place. When William Jefferson was implicated--though not even indicted yet--Democrats pulled him from his committee position very quickly. When Tom DeLay was implicated in wrongdoing, Republicans specifically changed their caucus rules to protect him! That is the difference between Democrats and Republicans.
The Clinton and Reid myths Clint perpetuates make me most angry, since they are outright lies. The DeLay thing I think most clearly demonstartes how Republicans and Democrats deal with corruption among their own different. The Moore and Doyle things are a bit squishier, but both sides need airing here. I'm happy to do it, hopefully setting Clint straight.

Thompson emails: Smoking gun or just smoking something?

The Wisconsin GOP thinks it has the smoking gun in the Georgia Thompson "travelgate" case. A press release (.pdf) has copies of emails Thompson sent that, if you squint real hard and imagine things that aren't there, might indicate the the "scandal" goes all the way to the top.

In one email, Thompson mentions that she's arranging for the winning bidder (remember that Thompson's insisting on a final round of bids saved taxpayers money!) Adelman Travel to visit the offices of the Governor, one of the people who would be using the services of the agency. This makes sense to me:
But Doyle spokesman Matt Canter said there was nothing improper about Thompson trying to arrange the visit to the governor's office after the contract was awarded.

"Thompson and her staff went around to government agencies, including the governor's office, to explain the new procedures of the travel contract," Canter said.
Of course, the more important--and completely unasked--question is, If Adelman Travel was so well-connected to the Governor, why would they need Thompson to arrange a visit?

In a second, very long email, from January of 2005, as the bidding process was just getting started, Thompson included one line about Marc Marotta, Governor Doyle's then Administration Secretary (now a high roller in the re-election campaign). The line is about what was included in the Request for Proposals (RFP) sent out to travel agencies. "We included language in the RFP," she wrote, "about hotels and airlines, as Marc Marotta suggested." To the GOP, Marotta's suggestion that (horrors!) the state's travel agency might cover both airlines and hotels is tantamount to his having selected Adelman as quid pro quo for Adelman's contributions to the Doyle campaign. In fact (from the JSOnline link above):
Marotta said he attended one meeting, which his schedule says was held in Ocober 2004, at which a potential $4 million savings by consolidating state travel was discussed.
There you go. But again, an important and unasked question remains. The very next sentence in that Thompson email reads, "I still believe both hotels and airlines need to be bid separately [. . .]." If Thompson was supposedly doing all this to please her supervisors, why would she express reservations, instead of going at it full bore? Seriously, do you really think it would help you with your boss if you went around saying, "Hm, I think my boss may be wrong"?

It doesn't make sense. The GOP is not making a very good case here, and if this is as close as they can get to a smoking gun, then maybe it's the crack they're smoking.

What's more, the Republican-appointed US Attorney who's been on this case--and who secured the conviction against Thompson--thinks the GOP is on crack, too. Again from the JSOnline link, with my emphasis:
U.S. Attorney Stephen Biskupic, who prosecuted Thompson, said in a statement today that in the course of his investigation, he had examined the e-mail released by the Republican Party and concluded there was nothing in it criminally damaging to Marotta. In fact, Marotta was not even called as a witness in Thompson's trial.

"The public should not presume that anyone else will be charged," Biskupic said. "We are continuing to look at the evidence, but the public is cautioned not to read anything else into it, only that we're being careful. It doesn't necessarily mean that more charges are forthcoming."
Seth Zlotocha called it right the other day when he said that the GOP's relentless negative digs at Doyle--and, in today's case, desperate digs at Doyle--show nothing more than a lack of leadership and a plan from their candidate for governor, Mark Green. If they had something positive to show, they would show it. Green's got nothing, so they have to do the next best thing--stretch the truth about Jim Doyle.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The difference between Democrats and Republicans, episode #6,723

6,723: When the media claim that a "former official" of a Democratic administration was convicted in a pay-for-play scandal, what they mean is that a civil servant hired by the personnel department of the previous Republican admnistration was convicted.

When the media claim that a "former official" of a Republican administration was convicted in a pay-for-play scandal, what they mean is someone who was hand-selected by that Republican to head a powerful agency with control of scads and scads of money was convicted.

The hits just keep coming, no?

That explains that

Digby has up an email he got from a "Wingnut Ted," defending Ann Coulter (who is indefensible, like the rest of the wingnuttosphere). One of Ted's points:
She is also very pretty, sexy, and aggressive which attracts even more attention because, when combined with her intelligence, it makes for a very unusual and interesting combination.
This clearly explains conservatives' fascination with Michael Moore and Ward Churchill.

Milwaukee Public Schools: Screaming, and Small Miracles

Last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a series on Milwaukee Public Schools high schools. As a teacher in an MPS high school--indeed, in one of the schools specifically profiled--I do not think that, for the most part, there were great inaccuracies. I do think that this editorial on small schools overlooked the problems of implementation, including those reported by that very paper. Fellow teacher Diane Hardy countered with an op-ed; I did a whole series on the problems last year.

But by far the story that rankled me and other bloggers was ths one from last Monday. First of all, the photo on your right accompanied the story, on the front page, and it was taken in a chemistry class at my high school. The photo--whose caption indicated that students were sleeping--was actually of students who did not want to have their pictures taken and, consequently, hid their faces from the photographer. That was the first problem.

The second problem was Milt Perry:
The class is called Employability Skills. If so, Lord help our future employers.

The teacher, Milton Perry, has been at [this school] for 39 years. What kind of class is this, a reporter asks before entering the classroom. "Wild," Perry answers. He says there are 35 students on the roster. About 20 are present on a typical day. On this day, 16 are in the classroom at 8:50 a.m., 15 minutes after the period began.

At no point in the 90-minute period does Perry do any conventional teaching to the class - a lecture or presentation of any material.

"Lecture to this group?" Perry says. "You'd be up here talking to yourself. You might as well go over there and talk to that closet." He looks toward the students, who are spending most of the time goofing around, and says, "All they want to do is play with the cell phones, eat junk food, listen to CD players."

What are they supposed to be doing? They have a textbook, "Succeeding in the World of Work." Perry gave them work sheets that call for them to turn to specific pages in the text that summarize the main points of each of the 25 chapters in a few words. Then they are to fill in those phrases on the work sheet. This is Thursday; they've been working on this since Monday. And if they don't finish by Friday? Perry says he'll give them some more time. He also says it ought to take two periods to complete.

The other assignment for the class is to learn the two-letter abbreviations for every state and the District of Columbia used by the U.S. Postal Service. On Monday, Perry passed out a sheet with the 51 locations and the two-letter answers and told the kids to copy the abbreviations. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they did the same thing but were supposed to do it without looking at the answers. Now, on Thursday, they're supposed to do it again. On Friday, they will do it once more, this time as a test.

Why learn these abbreviations? "Number one, it's knowledge. You don't turn down knowledge," Perry says. He calls the lesson a "sponge activity," because it needs to be repeated a few times before students soak it up.

Perry says the trend in student ability has been downward for years. What could change that? "Ooh, that's a tough one," he says. "The only thing I can think of is parental involvement." The hands of administrators and teachers are tied, he says. At parent teacher conferences recently, he had four parents show up. He has about 90 students.
You can probably guess why I'm frustrated. I teach these same students--and I'm not speaking metaphorically, here; I literally teach these same students--and I do not just give them a packet on Monday and sit around hoping they finish copying out of the book by Friday. That's crap. And I know what a "sponge activity" really is, and I use them wisely. (A better solution to the problem of students' not knowing postal abbreviations: Take them to the library and teach them where to look them up.)

The students are not "wild" unless you expect and allow them to be. And I don't care what the "trend" in student ability is: You meet them at their level and you help them reach the next. It's not a matter of worksheets and drills; it's a matter of caring a little bit.

But there are two key points that need to be made coming out of this. One plays off of Perry's claim that four out of 90 parents showed at conferences. That, I have no doubt, is absolutely true. I don't get a much better rate myself, even among parents of my college-bound students. This does not mean the failure of students to learn is solely the fault of disengaged parents; that disengagement does, however, reinforce something that I have been saying for almost as long as I've been in this district. The problem of education in Milwaukee is not (just) a schools problem. It is a Milwaukee problem. And to expect schools alone to overcome parental disengagement, recreational violence, endemic poverty, chronic unemployement and its attendant problems (poor health care, bad nutrition, lack of parental oversight and discipline), and fifty years of white flight and resegregation is ridiculous.

Getting parents to turn up at conferences is a start; getting them more involved in how students treat school at home is better. Too many on the right, though, are willing to lay all the blame on the parents. Dad29, for example, or fellow MPS high school teacher The Game. For them--for Dad29, in particular--this seems to fit more of an anti-Milwaukee bias: The people in Milwaukee are to blame entirely, not anything systemic or systematic.

Schools can work miracles--I see small ones every day--but we cannot upend the social order to make everything right again. It's even more frustrating to think that some (Bill Gates and our superintendent, to name two) think that tinkering with high schools alone can save the world. High school is an easy target for education critics, because high school is where long-term problems become manifest: students don't drop out at fourth grade, for example. Years of difficulty and challenges in a student's life compound right up until the point when they get to me, and all of a sudden I'm blamed for the wide-spread failure.

Which brings me to the second point: Milt Perry is not representative of the teachers at my school, or MPS generally. Three classrooms from my school got profiled in that story, two positive. Guess which one the right crowed about? Commenters at Joanne Jacobs's site called for Perry's resignation. As did WISN's Dan Diebert (who did, I admit, mention another teacher--but then claimed she was "creating victims" by trying to convince them that education is the lynchpin of their future). Brian Fraley probably wins the prize:
How in the hell is Milton Perry still employed by MPS? This guy has been there for nearly 40 years and is not educating students. He’s barely babysitting them. [. . .]

He has no business working for the taxpayers in a public school. He isn’t helping these kids. He himself implied this was a typical day in his classroom. If true, then he is an embarrassment to the district, the school, and his peers. He’s especially embarrassing to the quality teachers in MPS, some of whom are also profiled in this series. [. . .] The question is, what will be done with this information?

My gut tells me that nothing. Nothing will be done.

The MPS bureaucracy is too cumbersome, the teachers’ union is too blockheaded to rid their ranks of those not competent or not compassionate enough to be called true educators, and too many people are like Milton Perry.
One of the right's most favorite things to do is to blame the teachers union for protecting bad teachers. You see it all the time; every day, someone somewhere is demanding that a teachers union stop protecting bad teachers. It's a cop-out and the worst kind of lie.

First of all, it is not--it is never--a union's job to root out bad members. That's management's job. Period. The union is there to ensure that the process is fair, not to ensure that it never happens. MPS, for example, has a union-developed program called TEAM, which is very easy for administrators to use. It's designed to get poor teachers the help thehy need, either to get better, or to hit the road. It works--but only if management does its job.

Second of all, I have been Milt Perry's union rep for three years. I have not been protecting the man from anything. Not one principal--out of three I've worked under at my school--has done anything about him.

In fact, in one discussion I had with the current principal after the article ran last week, she actually laid that one on me: "Your union protects him," she said smugly.

"You can get rid of him if you want," I told her.

"Why should that be my job?" she said. I held my tongue; I wanted to scream at her, "Because you're the principal!" but screaming is not my style.

So, in the end, if I don't scream, what is to be done? Well, word will get out eventually that my school is being closed. As part of the superintendent's high-school redesign effort, they're chucking the school and putting a new, different, and (we all hope) better charter school into the building. Charters have slightly more freedom when it comes to teaching and program design, but, as I noted this morning, the raw material coming in will still be the same. We'll still have to meet kids at their level and help them get to the next one.

And what happens when the students don't make it to the next level? Former MPS school board member Bruce Thompson kind of wishes that, like private schools, MPS could expell students for not meeting expectations. Sadly, we can't. We're stuck with what we have.

And small miracles are all you get.

$30 by 30

There's a June 30 fundraising deadline (technically, a reporting deadline), and you'll be hearing more from me about that as the time approaches. But I wanted to draw your attention to one campaign in particular: Fair Wisconsin's $30 by the 30th campaign. Fair Wisconsin is leading the effort to defeat the amendment that would constitutionally ban gay marriage, civil unions, or any other similar arrangement. This is important work, people, and even those of you on the right side of the Cheddarsphere who oppose the amendment can step up to help.

Fair Wisconsin has a modest $30,000 goal for this effort, which means just 1,000 of you need to chip in the measly $30. You can click through the link above, or go straight to the secure contribution page.

We deserve a better legislature

Yes. Yes we do. One-stop shopping there for my northwestern Wisconsin readers.

If college athletic recruiters can't do this . . .

. . . why can a charter school?
For Milwaukee students with good grades in search of a high school for the fall, the Wisconsin Career Academy offers a special little perk: a $100 gift card for those arriving with at least a 3.5 grade point average; $50 for students with at least a 3.25 GPA; and, for those with a 2.5 or better, a school T-shirt or sweat shirt.

The controversial strategy, which School District officials say might violate policies, speaks to the competitive landscape in Milwaukee when it comes to recruiting students, a landscape where schools of all stripes are much more likely to send out mailings or set up booths at fairs than they were even five years ago. It also points to a more high-stakes testing culture, where school officials see the benefit of signing up motivated students who will score better.

"We are trying to attract better students, and more students," said Tarik Celik, the school's principal. "Every year, Milwaukee is losing more than 2,000 students, and, as a charter school on the south side, it's hard."

He points out that the school no longer offers yellow bus service because of budget cuts and will not be able to provide bus passes in the fall. "You have to offer some sort of incentive," he said.
Um . . . shouldn't the incentive be the quality of your program?

The Wisconsin Career Academy shared space in my school's building for a couple of years back when they were starting. We used to refer to it as the "sit down-shut up" school, since that seemed to be the extent of the teaching that went on there. I imagine things have picked up for them by now--I don't know where they are in the five-year charter review process--but if they aren't creating buzz on the strength of their academic offerings, then artificial attempts to boost their numbers and scores are just that--phony.

One thing that distinguishes education from other enterprises--anything that makes widgets, for example--is that there is very little that educators and schools can do to control their raw materials. (See "The Blueberry Story" for example.) Even those (like occasional interlocutor Paul Noonan) who believe that "the K-12 system [should] more closely reflect the college/university system" forget that at the post-secondary level, too, schools can pick and choose whom they teach.

That doesn't happen in the public schools, even in a system like MPS where parents have a choice among all 200+ programs. Parents have the choice, not schools. A few schools with waiting lists--Rufus King, for example--get some choice, but they still must accept neighborhood and special education students and they are expected to teach them just as well as those who gain early admission through testing.

Wisconsin Career Academy is trying to upset the system in ways that, as district officials in the story indicate, may be illegal. Cash payouts to (presumably) easy-to-teach students turns the notion of "choice" upside-down, and it needs to be stopped. Now.

Monday, June 19, 2006

More Hands on the Internet

As I noted the other day, the BlogAd to your right for "smart network or dumb pipe" or whatever it says today takes you to a misleading video and presentation that distorts the arguments for what we're calling "net neutrality" and instead offers a point of view sponsored by the big telecoms like AT&T and Bellsouth. You can click on the ad and get their point of view if you like. That's the great thing about a neutral internet--no one is telling you what you can or can't see.

But I want to follow up with some more information for you. Last Friday, Mike McCurry (lobbyist for the telecoms) debated Paul Misener, vice president of Global Public Policy for Amazon.com (McCurry calls him the lobbyist at McCurry's blog!) about the issue. This post has a partial transcript and links to the video, but I wanted to highlight just a smidge of Misener's words. He starts by refuting the notion that somehow the telecoms get stuck with all the bills for high-profile and high-bandwidth dot-coms:
Tiered pricing for access is something we support. Amazon pays a lot more than ‘Joe’s-Internet-retail.com’ simply because we use more capacity… That makes perfect sense to us. You pay for that capacity. But the important component here is that once the consumer has paid for his or her capacity at their home they ought to be able to use that capacity however they want. There’s a fundamental misconception here that somehow delivery of video over the Internet is just like it is over cable TV, over satellite, over broadcast or, frankly, like delivery of content through newspapers or magazines. Those models have always been about ‘push.’ Somebody decides — who either owns the pipe or owns the newspaper — what content goes in their and pushes it out to consumers and they can choose to read it or not.

That’s not the way the Internet works. The Internet does not have all this content in there unless the user asks for it. When you hit return on your browzer it actually sends out a ‘get command’ to the server; it’s a very illustrative name for a command in computer code. It actually says ‘get’– that means now send me the file. That file never gets into the pipes owned by the network operators that Mike represents unless their customer who’s paid for that access asks for it. So we’re not clogging their pipes at all. We’re only providing the content that we hope our joint customers want to see.
As you can see, the argument that telecoms must have control over what goes in or out of their networks--or at what speeds--to protect themselves is baloney. McCurry and his crew are simply not being honest with you.

The difference between Democrats and Republicans, episodes #6,721 and 6,722

6,721: When Democrats find one of their own implicated in unethical and potentially illegal doings, that member is stripped of his seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee. When Republicans find one of their own implicated in unethical and potentially illegal doings, that member gets to sit atop the House Appropriations Committee. (This is similar to a variety of previous episodes in this series, involving such Republican figures as Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and Duke Cunningham, who had to be convicted before he resigned.)

6,722: When a Democrat loses money in a real estate deal, it takes special prosecutors, eight years, and tens of millions of dollars to get to the bottom of it and find that he did nothing wrong. When a Republican makes a killing in a land deal made possible because of earmarks he wrote, he gets to keep his cushy job as Speaker of the House.

Stay tuned for more in our continuing series . . .

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sensenbrenner: Lying with impunity

Xoff beat me to the punch on Sensenbrenner's continued abuse of taxpayer money through "junkets." (Aside: If F. Jim is so big on not wasting taxpayers' money for things like hurricane relief, why is he ok with traveling on our dime?) So I'll pick up on a tip from a reader instead.

I heven't spent a lot of time following F. Jim's press releases, but once you get into them, you can find them riddled with lies--lies no one in the Milwaukee-area press seems to be calling him on. For example, from May:
Over the past several months, organized anti-war protests have taken place around the country, including in Wisconsin, at the funerals of servicemen and women killed while fighting in the war against terrorism. These extremist demonstrators harass family members and friends with chants and signs that read, ‘Thank God for dead soldiers,’ ‘God hates you,’ and ‘Thank God for IEDs.’ This behavior is revolting and deeply disrespectful.

Whatever your political persuasion, or stance on the War on Terror, I think we all can agree that family members and friends should be protected during military funerals. [. . .] As a result, I, along with over 100 Republican and Democrat House Members, cosponsored HR 5037, the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act. The bill would prohibit demonstrations on national cemetery grounds, unless specifically approved, and would silence all demonstrations one hour before and one hour following a military memorial service within a 500-foot radius.
Lies. Sensenbrenner clearly labels the protesters targeted here as "anti-war," and with his reference to "political persuasion," implies that said protesters are liberal. This is not true: The resolution came about as a direct result of protests at military funerals by Fred Phelps, an ultra-conservative who is not anti-war, but anti-gay, and feels that the US deserves to have its servicemembers die beczuse of our liberal policies regarding homsexuality in this country. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered Phelps when he brought his circus to Wisconsin, and if F. Jim had bothered to read the paper, he'd know that the protests are not anti-war or liberal in nature.

The New York Times ran an op-ed just this week (behind their stupid subscription wall) in which the writer claimed that liberal anti-war protesters were disrupting military funerals. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) investigated and found that, in fact, it was all Phelps's group, not liberals.

Google all you want; you will not find that liberals--or anyone anti-war--are protesting military funerals.

(Tip on that one from Green opponent to F. Jim, Bob Levis.)

One example ought to be enough, but there's more. This release, for example, lies about what's in the Senate immigration bill. My favorite is possibly this one, which may not be a lie, but is certainly dripping with irony:
The National Taxpayers Union (NTU), an independent tax watchdog group, has awarded Menomonee Falls Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner the ‘Taxpayers’ Friend Award’ for 2005 because of his voting record to reduce and control the tax burden on American taxpayers. Congressman Sensenbrenner, the only Member of the Wisconsin delegation to get an ‘A,’ received the ninth highest score in the House of Representatives. [. . .]

“Ultimately, this is the taxpayers’ money we’re talking about and we’re the ones entrusted to spend it responsibly,” Sensenbrenner concluded.
Who is it being irresponsible with taxpayers' money again?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hands on the Internet

For the first time ever in the history of this here blog, I have two BlogAds going at once. It's still not enough money to cover what they want to fix my car, but, hey . . .

However, the second of those ads ("See the future of the internet!") is one that you should be wary about. You may have heard a little bit about the "net neutrality" debate going on right now in Congress. The idea is that, absent regulation or law, internet service providers could be free to deny or privilege specific web content. For example, if you get your internet through SBC/Yahoo/AT&T or whatever they are now, your ISP could decide that you just don't need access to Google, which is, of course, a chief rival to Yahoo. MSN could decide not to let you visit the Apple Store online. Providers may decide that all the streaming video you've come to enjoy from places like YouTube is just too bandwidth intensive, and so you can't have it. Or, you can't have it at a reasonable download speed.

The ad takes you to a quaint little deceptive movie about the net neutrality debate, but you can click around and get to Hands off the Internet, which is kind of the blog of the group sponsoring the ad. You can find there that they believe
that the Net's phenomenal growth over the past decade stems from the ability of entrepreneurs to expand consumer choices and opportunities without worrying about government regulation. We believe consumers across America see the results of this "hands off" approach - through such benefits as expanded distance education opportunities, improved access and speed to almost any information, on-line commerce, and an easier and inexpensive way to communicate with family and colleagues.
What's funny about this, of course, is that up until recently--the last year or so, I think--there were regulations in place requiring neutrality and equal access to content from all ISPs. Those regulations went away, and that's why we're now in a fight to get them back. So the "phenomenal growth"--things like Google, eBay, MySpace, YouTube, and so on--all happened under the kind of regulation this group opposes!

It won't surpirse you to learn that their effort is heavily subsidized by the telecoms (which is why I don't feel bad about taking their ten bucks even though I disagree with them). The lead spokesman is former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry--who has, because of his corporate shillingness, earned the inetense scorn of the left.

At any rate, you can click through and decide for yourself. But don't be fooled by their discussions of taxing the internet and things like that--none of that is on the table from anyone anywhere. All the forces of good are looking for is the assurance that ISPs cannot block or slow down content, picking and choosing what you get to see.

Balistreri Documents

I've been getting some Google hits from people looking for info on the documents to be released today on Milwaukee school board member Tom Balistreri.

I don't know if the docs are released yet, and I'm not likely to get a copy of them.

However, scuttlebut around the district says they're probably sexual harassment complaints. Balistreri's roving eye (and maybe hands) are not that big a secret.

But you didn't hear it from me.

Update: You heard it from the newspaper.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

ActBlue gets better

Not a lot of time for the blogging tonight, but I do bring you news that ActBlue, the central clearing house for contributions to Democratic candidates nationwide, is New! and Improved!

The people at ActBlue have been working double time to get all of the appropriate legwork done so that, rather than just federal candidates, you can now contribute to campaigns in most states. I can't imagine how much work it is to try to follow election law in 50 states plus the feds, so big props to them.

More important for you and me, I've updated my ActBlue page to include some other candidates that I feel deserve your support. So right now, in one convenient step, you can contribute to Bryan Kennedy, Jim Doyle, Pat Kreitlow, Jim Sullivan, and more.

So, go ahead!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tutor This

I have a few long posts in my head about the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's series on MPS high schools this week, but, given work things, I will start with a response to something from Sunday's "Crossroads" section instead.

Eugene W. Hickok, a paid shill for the "supplemental education services" industry, has an op-ed lamenting the fact that parents don't make use of supplemental education services. Kind of like the Jiffy Lube guy complaining that you get your oil changed at the dealer.

Leave aside for a minute that the guy in question, as an Undersecretary of Education, "was an architect of the No Child Left Behind Act" (the sort of thing that always reminds me of the marketing philosophy of "create a niche, then fill it"--the man created a cash stream for these SESes and now he's profiting from it). Leave aside the additional willy-generating fact that the company's business model is to lobby for changes in education law that benefit the private-sector companies that pay for their services (and people complain when NEA lobbies for the public schools!).

Consider simply the fact that the op-ed is bone-headedly offensive.

The basic idea behind the SESes in question is that schools identified as "in need of improvement" under NCLB must divert a portion of their federal Title I money to outside groups, which can include everything from for-profit companies to faith-based organizations, who then tutor children in the basics like reading and math. This is supposed to help the students not with their schoolwork, but to achieve better scores on state tests. And, given today's release to the public about Wisconsin's failing schools, you'll probably hear more about it soon.

Hickok doesn't live in Milwaukee and hasn't seen what goes on here; I do. I've seen these SESes in action. But first, here's his complaint:
These school administrators claim that of the 1.4 million children eligible for such tutoring during the past school year, only 233,000 (17%) had parents and guardians who found this offer worthy of acceptance. All the rest apparently declined free tutoring for their children.

That is simply preposterous. [. . .]

The law says schools [. . .] are to notify parents of their children's eligibility for the services, inform them of the names and varieties of tutoring services available, and make it easy for parents to enroll their children for the services.

But in far too many places this simply isn't happening. Why would only 17% of eligible children be enrolled in this program?

In far too many places, it's not the parents' fault or an oversight that's to blame. It is the people in charge of the schools, who, in far too many cases, think that the money set aside for free tutoring is money that ought to stay with their schools and districts instead--that it's their money to manage as they see fit. [. . .]

Too many children in this country are failing to get the education they need and deserve. What a tragedy it would be if, years from now, we learned that those responsible for providing that education to our children were the very ones responsible for their not getting it.
The omitted litany of complaints, though written from a cozy office in DC, is published in the Milwaukee paper, leading many, I would guess, to assume that these problems exist in Milwaukee--that MPS is trying to cheat parents out of an opportunity for their children. This is not true, and to imply it is an insult.

I've seen the district letter that goes out to parents about my school. Even though we have generally been improving in one or more areas every year we miss Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the letter pretty clearly makes the case to parents that our school sucks rocks. This year, when parents get their letter ('cause my school is on the list! yay!), parents will not be told that our math and reading scores were up ten or more percentage points over last year. Nope. Just like last year, they didn't hear about how we missed AYP simply because three too few special education students could be rounded up to take the test. Instead, parents just get a letter full of alarming rhetoric about how the whole school is doomed! Doomed, I tell you!

The letter does not set firm deadlines. In fact, though every year there's a supposed deadline, the SESes that inhabit my school keep recruiting kids year-round. They are in the lobby for the ninth-grade orientation. They are all around at parent-teacher conferences. The people running the programs are in the building constantly trying to drum up business.

Perhaps one reason why Milwaukee might have a low participation rate--in 2004-2005, it was about 20%, not significantly better than the national average Hickok cites--is because many parents never get their letters.

I was at one of the school-closing meetings (see this post) last week, and Tyrone Dumas, who's running the process, said that a mailing to every parent in the district that his office prepared had a returned-undeliverable rate from the post office of more than 1 in 5. That's 20% of parents who may not be getting the letters in the first place.

Another reason why participation may be low is something hinted at above: The "tutoring" is not supposed to help students be successful in school, but rather successful on state tests. For any student who is past November of his or her sophomore year, this tutoring--while it may be needed to brush up rudimentary skills--seems useless, since the test is over. I've had many students tell me that when they asked for help on work I assign, they can't get it from these tutors. This upsets students and parents, both.

The tutoring is also of questionable quality; at my school, I have observed or have been made aware of activities at these SES sessions that should worry parents:
  • teachers ignoring tutoring students to conduct after-school, paid activities with different children (double-dipping, anyone?)
  • incentives such as TVs and cash given to students for mere attendance, rather than performance
  • tutors trying to recruit students from my school to attend the private school where they teach
  • abuse, misuse, theft, and vandalism of school property during the after-school sessions
  • students being called out of class during the school day for meetings about incentive trips to places like the Mall of America
  • students missing days of school to attend such incentive trips
  • teachers asked to evaluate students they have never personally worked with--on forms that would be filed with DPI!
This is not the sort of thing that would make a parent confident in the ability of these services to improve a child's basic skills.

I'm not suggesting that all SES providers everywhere are scam artists or completely useless. I just haven't seen enough to encourage me about their effectiveness, certainly not enough that an industry shill like Hickok can pursuade me.

Apparently, the state hasn't seen enough, either. Last August, the state raised red flags:
When asked if there is any current, objective way to judge whether kids are doing better in school or on state tests, Mary Kleusch, the assistant director for the Office of Educational Accountability, who oversees the program, said simply: No.

[. . .T]he law puts the task of approving--and evaluating--providers squarely in the lap of the state, not school districts.[. . .] Currently, the state requires providers to report the number of students they served, the degree to which they attended and how much progress the students made. "The limitation is that it's a self-report," Kleusch said.
This year MPS decided they would disrupt the learning even more at my school--and other sites served by SESes--by making us give more standardized tests during class time at the start and end of the school year. These tests were somehow supposed to tell someone somewhere whether the SESes were working. Why the burden fell on us--and not the groups being assessed--I don't know. I just know I lost four days of teaching this year because of it.

I have no idea what the results will show, or whether the state will ever develop any kind of a rigorous accountability model for these groups. But until they do--and until someone shows me data to suggest that the students in these programs are improving at something more than test-taking ability and that my tax dollars are being spent wisely--I will not sit idly by and let someone making a pretty penny off those same tax dollars blame me for the failings of his damned law.

Monday, June 12, 2006

This will make waves

Tom Balistreri is resiging from the Milwaukee Public Schools board:
Balistreri, a vocal critic of Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, had less than a year left of his four-year term. He said in a statement and an afternoon interview that he decided to resign solely because of health issues, not political ones.

"It's strictly that I've got to get on a very regimented program to take care of my health," Balistreri said. He is diabetic and had open-heart surgery a year ago.
What kind of waves, I don't have time to speculate on. But, as far as things go, this is a big one.

Also, yes, I've seen the first several of the reports on MPS high schools, including today's, which is in part about my school. They seem accurate. If I didn't have finals this week and a ton of work packing up for the summer, I'd say more now. As it is, I will say more later.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

McIlheran Watch: Hey, Gays, Go Back in the Closet and Let me Insult You

As the debate over various gay marriage amendments heats up--nationally, again, where is fizzles--and here in Wisconsin, it's interesting to watch pundits' true colors coming out. Even the circumspect ones might leave enough pieces lying around to put together into a full picture. In Patrick McIlheran's case, the picture is not very attractive.

We already know that he favors the anti-gay marriage (and civil unions and other substantially similar arrangements) amendment because he really wants to criticize the gays. In a November column, he wrote (my emphasis),
The campaign for gay marriage is all about denying anyone the ability to disagree. If we are told by legislators or courts to permit same-sex marriage, then any disagreement we might have with it can have no effect on what we do or say. The law will have told us that we must regard the couple as married, even if we think that's nonsense.

That's because marriage isn't about mutual affections, an ungovernably private matter. Nor is it the prerequisite to intimate relations: No one suggests a lack of a legal document has kept any couple pining in separate beds.

Rather, marriage is about declaring those mutual affections before the world and having the world in turn regard two people as a unit. [. . . O]nce the state says marriage includes mutual husbandry, there's no disagreeing. The moment you treat the couple any differently than any other, you'll find yourself cornered by a motivated, high-end pro-bono lawyer ready to dice, slice and ice you. Good luck.
In other words, shut up and let me insult you all I want.

And now we now also know that Pat doesn't just want even want to know gays exist. In response to MPS school board member Jennifer Morales's coming out this week:
Frankly, I suppose that like many I’d prefer to say nothing--and that she hadn’t made a public thing of it. Did we have to know this? There is a virtue in discretion, after all, a reason bedrooms have doors.

The way modern society is disposed, we are not supposed, upon learning someone’s homosexual, to think less of him, since we’re not supposed to regard homosexuality with moral disapproval. Yet the plain fact is that a great many denominations and their adherents do view gay sex as morally problematic. What can a public coming-out be, then, but, intended or not, a confrontation with what many people think is a matter of right and wrong?

Such a declaration could, I suppose, be presumed a morals-neutral thing, but this seems absurd: One does not come out as a fan of the color red or as being fond of pickles. [. . .]

I know the act of "coming out" is a big thing if you feel your sexual preference is the defining characteristic of your life and you’ve kept it a secret. But if it’s therapeutic to tell someone, surely therapy could be achieved by involving family and a circle of friends, by some step short of bringing all Milwaukee, whether they wish it or not, into a confidence.
The fact that gays and lesbians exist, and that we know about them, is too much for him to handle. Jeebus forbid that he should have to know that something exists that he disagrees with.

(The full story on Morales's coming out is here. I say good for her. I find it interesting that McIlheran critiques Morales, a public figure, for making it public, while it's his paper--on whose editorial board he sits--ran the story.)

Vote Kennedy!

You may or may not have noticed the BlogAd in the sidebar there for the Forward Together PAC's "Map Changers" promotion. The PAC is former Virginia Governor Mark Warner's thing (comparable to Russ Feingold's Progressive Patriots Fund PAC. It is a way to 1) curry favor with other Democrats and B) gather email addresses.

So go give Mark Warner your email address for this one. Why? Is it because I think you need another eight or ten emails a week for the next two and a half years? No--it's so you can vote for Bryan Kennedy.

Bryan, you may recall, is running in the WI-05 against grumpy gavel-beater F. Jim Sensenbrenner. And the whole idea behind Warner's "Map Changers" is that you, the voting (and emailing) public, can nominate and help select candidates who will benefit from the PAC's fundraising and, with hope, change the map to blue.

Byran Kennedy is on the list for nominations now (through Tuesday June 13) in the "West" region. You can also nominate someone from the "East" region--I went for Illinois's John Laesch, who is challenging another grumpy gus, Dennis Hastert. So click on the ad (or the link above--I don't get paid per click, so it doesn't really matter), register, and nominate Bryan. He's the last one in the "West" region.

And, as a bonus, you can select "No" for the "email updates" question!

UPDATE: Xoff reminds us that you can vote Kennedy in two more of these contests: DFA's Grassroots All-Star (where Bryan was a finalist last time) and Feingold's PPF itself.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday Random Ten

The Graduation Day Edition

1. "Somebody More Like You" Nickel Creek from Why Should the Fire Die?
2. "Maori" Girlyman from Remember Who I am
3. "Here's to the Real World" Whiskeytown from Faithless Street
4. "The Weight" The Band from The Last Waltz
5. "If I Met Me at a Party" The Loomers from Shine
6. "When One Door Closes" Carrie Newcomer from Bare to the Bone
7. "All the Way Home" Peter Mulvey from The Trouble with Poets
8. "Laughlin Boy" Tracy Grammer from Flower of Avalon
9. "Ten Little Kids" The Jayhawks from Tomorrow the Green Grass
10. "When I'm Up" Great Big Sea from Rant and Roar

How lame am I . . .

. . . that I have only eaten at one of Getto's top 30 restaurants?

And a thousand imaginary bonus points to anyone who can figure out which one it is (dining companions from that meal excepted).

Update: Link fixed. Thanks for (not) telling me guys. And the correct answer is Rey Sol.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More on my Deferred Compensation Battle

The post I wrote the other day facetiously comparing pensions and retiree health care to Dick Cheney's deferred compensation--but making a serious point about how public sector employees should not be quite the targets they are--has itself been a target. the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Patrick McIlheran, whose post inspired that compensation rant, graciously defers (get it?) to Dad29 to do the dirty work.

Dad29, on his way to becoming my own stalker, perhaps, tries to show that, compared to others, teachers don't have it so bad in the pay department. Therefore (he implies) I should just shut my trap when conservatives demand we--or other public employees--give up the benefits we have leaglly baragined for. He even throws in the old "all those other folks work 12 months a year" just so you know he's original.

Of course, I never said I wanted more pay. I said, in fact, that people like me have voluntarily chosen less pay in exchange for, essentially, deferred compensation--penisons and health care upon retirement. He also notes, helpfully, that average pay for all workers in Wisconsin shot up 10% between 2002 and 2005--considerably more than teacher pay rose in that time.

Rick Esenberg, in comments to that original post, complains that the burden of pensions and retiree health care is too great and, he says, way better than what your average bear retires on. This means--again, implied--that our benfits need to be trimmed, rather than health care needing to be cheaper or everyone else's retirement needing to be sweeter. (I love it when someone complains about how good I have it. Why, I ask them, are you complaining about mine? Sounds like you should be complaining about yours.)

But not everyone is complaining. Jim McGuigan revises and extends my remarks:
To expand on his argument, there is no 401-K and no profit sharing plan public sector employees can enjoy. The GOP isn’t really too stupid to be able to figure that out, they just don’t have the little guy in mind with any of their policies. That’s why they support tax cuts for the wealthy and don’t bat an eye at multi-million dollar executive compensation packages that are hundreds of times the salary of some of their employees.

Deferred compensation and pensions are ways for companies to meet todays needs while allowing the company the ability to use its capital to grow the business now. Public pension plans are a little different in that if they do especially well with investments, the government entity is not allowed to draw any excess from them to pay for existing expenses.
Thanks, Jim.

And, perhaps most surprising of all, Republican extraordinaire Deb Jordhal steps up for me:
A pension is not a gift from employer to employee; it is part of an employee's overall compensation package, and when employment terminates, the pension belongs to the employee. Any attempt by the legislature to seize that property is not likely hold up in court, especially if it’s done retroactively.
Let's remember that, people, as the demands to wring public employees trying to solve bigger budget mismanagement problems keep coming.