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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, September 29, 2006

On a Lighter Note

I thought I would put you all On Notice.



Make your own. (As seen at Rox's.)

Send Good Thoughts to Weston, please

This story is quite sad:
The 49-year-old principal of Weston High School died about 3:30 p.m. Friday from gunshot wounds inflicted by a freshman student earlier in the day.

The principal, John Klang, approached the student, Eric Hainstock, after the boy had broken away from a school custodian just inside the school entrance. The custodian had taken a shotgun from the boy in that initial struggle.

Sauk County Sheriff Randy Stammen said Hainstock shot Klang in the chest, head and leg with a .22-caliber revolver he had taken from the family home, just outside the small town of La Valle.
The whole thing is compounded by what happened earlier in the day, in an apparently unrelated incident:
Less than fifteen minutes before the school shooting, a 16-year-old Weston High School student crashed a car at high speed and was pronounced dead on arrival at the UW Hospital. The boy's father is a member of the school board.

Sheriff Stammen said a deputy observed the car speeding on State Highway G, followed it, then lost sight of it on West Harris Road. He discovered the car moments later, crashed on the west shoulder of State Highway K.

The driver was not wearing a seatbelt. A passenger in the car, another boy, was injured, but treated and released at Reedsburg Area Medical Center.
When I first heard about the shooting, I thought about writing a post including my usual reminder that, despite this shooting, one in Colorado, and the Green Bay plot, children are still safer at school than driving to school. Sigh.

Fellow MPS teacher The Game points out that these incidents "are not happening at the schools that you would 'think' they would happen at," meaning the Milwaukee Public Schools. I've never felt unsafe in MPS (I got close in the suburbs). My students, however, are probably more likely to kill or be killed outside of school; that presents its own set of challenges and tragedies.

Anyway, my heart's out to those teachers and students. It will be a long weekend.

Friday Random Ten

The I only have two days left to take advantage of those free or cheap things places will give me if I come in during the month of my birthday but I haven't taken advantage of yet because it's just been a busy time for me, okay? Edition

1. "Ring of Fire" Johnny Cash from 16 Biggest Hits
2. "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin" Colin Hay from Man @ Work
3. "Man Overboard" Eric Clapton from Money and Cigarettes
4. "Gardening at Night" R.E.M. from Dead Letter Office
5. "Crow" Dan Bern from Fleeting Days
6. "Battle Hymn (of the College Dropout Farmhand)" Jeffrey Foucault from Miles from the Lightning
7. "A World Outside" Jon Svetkey from Take a Breath
8. "One Endless Night" Jimmie Dale Gilmore from One Endless Night
9. "My Brilliant Masterpiece" Don Conoscenti from Extremely Live at Eddie's Attic
10. "Yesterdays" The Stellanovas from Cafe Jazz

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dirty Money

Let me start by offering a partial apology to John McAdams related to my post Tuesday. In that post, I noted several times how McAdams returned to the theme of laundering "dirty money" while he was on Wisconsin Public Radio, and I said that no one was making that charge. I had not seen that charge made in a TV commercial (one benefit of TiVo), but I suppose I probably had seen it come up in one or more press releases against Mark Green's transfer of funds from his federal account to his state account. My larger point, the one I was trying to be clear about and probably wasn't, is that while he was on the air, no one made that charge. He kept coming back to it--and arguing against it--as a way, I believe, of avoiding talking about some of the issues callers like me actually raised. And the case against that argument that no one made on the air is, indeed persuasive, so I can understand why he kept using it.

But more to the point of this post: I think any strategy on this issue--Mark Green's having broken the law by transferring this money--that tries to make the implication that this is "dirty money" misses the mark, for several reasons.

First of all, I firmly believe that most voters already believe that a significant portion of the money in politics now already is "dirty money," even if that money is perfectly legal (as those PAC and individual contributions to Green's congressional campaign indeed were at the time). I think this is compounded by the fact that in Wisconsin, the individual contribution limit for the governor's race is ten thousand dollars. Consider how much different the Adelman Travel accusations would have sounded if we learned that the company's executives had only given, say, $500 a piece to Doyle's campaign. Just the mere mention of a ten thousand dollar contribution has the smell of corruption on it, even though legal, even though no one but anti-Doyle bloggers has connected Doyle to the violations of law in that case.

In short, saying that Green's PAC money is "dirty money" isn't going to move voters away from where they are.

Second, I think focusing on the PAC money or the PACs themselves distracts from the real story here. Face it; Mark Green thought what he was doing was legal when he did it--a whole lot of us did. That, in fact, is the persuasive part of the noise McAdams was making on the air: We all know that Green carefully sought advice about the transfer and did it in good faith. Sadly, the people whose advice he got, including the State Elections Board's counsel, were not the ones who ultimately ruled on the matter, not the ones whose opinions counted. So the real story--and the part of the story that really, really makes Mark Green look bad--is that, once told he'd broken the law, he said, "Forget you. I'm doing it anyway."

The story should be not that Green or his money is "dirty," but rather that he's a scofflaw.

For example, my friend Tim Schilke--whom I love dearly and who has the unenviable position of being the only liberal columnist in Waukesha County--writes this week about the story and gets it wrong. Here's how he closes:
So what’s the big deal anyway? Why not allow Mark Green to use any money he can gather in his campaign for governor?

One only has to look at Schedule 1B from Green’s fund conversion to answer that question. Do you really want to see JP Morgan PAC from New York ($2,500 converted), Pfizer PAC from New York ($6,000 converted), Glaxo Smith Kline PAC from Durham, N.C., ($5,500 converted), and Bank One PAC from Chicago ($10,000 converted) exerting undue influence over the governor’s office in Madison?
Well, no, of course not, is that answer to the question. But that question gets a no answer regardless of whose PAC contributions we're talking about--Green's or Doyle's. Saying that PACs are bad is axiomatic, even if some of us give to PACs and even if some of the nation's leading campaign finance reformers have PACs of their own. Continuing to harp on the notion that the money itself is tainted isn't going to move the voters away from where they are.

Third, I think Green's initial refusal to follow the SEB's order is the biggest mistake he's made in this campaign. Admittedly, on his part, he took a gamble, figuring that trying to rally support around what he perceived, perhaps rightly given the SEB's actions in 2001, as unfair treatment would be a winner for him. But he also took the chance of being painted as a scofflaw--an opportunity that I do not believe Doyle, the Democrats generally, and the issue groups on Doyle's side have fully taken advantage of.

Green's situation is compounded now that the case has gotten a wider examination in the light of not just SEB precedent--which is neither binding nor, apparently, trustworthy--but of state and federal law. The more we learn about the statutes govenrning campaign finance in this state and nationally, the more it looks like (and, sure, I'm biased here) Green broke both state and federal laws. Check my archives from the last week or so for a fuller explanation of why I believe that to be the case.

And, as a result of that deeper examination of Green's transfer and the laws governing it, the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which brough the initial complaint to the SEB against Green, is now filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission. An FEC ruling against Green, though not likely to come before the election, means not just the return of up to $1.2 million of the transferred funds, but fines, fines, fines.

Had Green just said, last month when the SEB made its order against him, that he'd follow that order and let it go, the story would be dead now. As it is, the opportunity is still there to make the case: Green is a scofflaw. He seems to have broken state and federal law, we say, whether he meant to or not; and now, instead of following that law, he's trying to get away with it.

That's the story that might move voters--Green knows he broke the law and he's trying to get away with it--not any tale of "dirty money."

--

Another rich line of attack to exploit might be that Green is now lying in his campaign ads. From this morning's paper:
[Green's new] ad says the Journal Sentinel reports that Gov. Jim Doyle "secretly rigged a state Elections Board vote to try and steal the election."

Don't be fooled. The newspaper didn't write that. News stories reported on calls from a Doyle campaign attorney to Democratic members of the Elections Board before a key vote that was to determine if Green should return nearly $468,000 that went from his congressional campaign fund to his governor campaign. Another news report cited a call from the state Republican Party head to a board member on the same matter.

A Sept. 22 editorial mostly bemoaned the blatant partisanship of the Elections Board in that vote and urged reform that would remove partisanship from such decisions. Specifically, it urged passage of legislation that would have removed the partisanship.

But the editorial also agreed with board counsel that there was likely nothing illegal about those calls, though it welcomed an investigation into whether open meeting laws were broken. So, "rigged?" "Steal?"
A few weeks back, Doyle came under pressure for using unedited footage from Madison TV news reports about the SEB's order against Green. There was no accusation that he was taking things out of context or misstating the stations' reporting. Here, it's clear that Green, perhaps reading between the same lines as the rest of us, is misrepresenting what was actually reported. If Doyle should have stopped his ads--and many on the right made it clear that's how they felt--Green certainly should. (Besides the contact's having been legal, there is also no evidence--and, indeed, evidence to the contrary--that either the Doyle lawyer's emails or the GOP executive director's phone calls actually changed anyone's mind.)

So this is what we've got: Green is told he broke the law, thumbs his nose at it, and then lies about how the story's been reported.

That's a compelling narrative on its own. You don't need to start throwing around charges of "dirty money" to make that story work.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Paid by the oversimplification?

Dickens and Tolstoy were paid by the word. (Some day, I dream I can be, too, since there's no word limit I can't blow through.) But it's clear that's not how Jessica McBride gets paid. Here's post of hers from this week, in its entirety:
They do?

New Saint Russ press release:

“Democrats support wiretapping terrorists..."

It then, predictably, goes on to oppose Congressional measures to wiretap terrorists.

What exactly has Russ Feingold ever done to support the wiretapping of terrorists? Opposing wiretapping terrorists doesn't count.
If you read Feingold's press release, you actually see that he still fully supports FISA, the law that allows the president to wiretap terrorists, in fact protesting that Arlen's Specter's "compromise" bill guts the current statute. If he opposed wiretapping terrorists, he'd be busy trying to eliminate FISA, rather than protect it. What McBride has penned here is an oversimplification of the worst kind--one that provides a false sense of what is actually going on.

What Feingold opposes is not "Congressional measures to wiretap terrorists," but rather Congressional attempts to both 1) retroactively excuse the president's violation of the plain language of the FISA law and 2) remove the administration's activity from the oversight of either the judicial or the legislative branch.

Perhaps McBride thinks that short paragraph above (me? write a short paragraph?) is too complicated for her readers so she feels the need to simplifiy it to a version that doesn't reflect reality. But that's a pretty cynical view of her and her fan base. Perhaps that short paragraph is just too complicated for McBride herself to understand. That also seems unlikely. That's why I've come down on the side of thinking that she gets a little bonus every time she writes up a misleading oversimplification.

She must be raking it in.

Drinking Liberally Milwaukee--Tonight!

From 7:00 onwards at Club Garibaldi in Patrick McIlheran's beloved Bay View. I'll be there. Will . . . you?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The rest of my conversation with Professor McAdams

Driving home yesterday, I found Marquette Professor John McAdams (known in the Cheddarsphere as the Marquette Warrior) on my radio. He was on Ben Merens's WPR program (you can listen to the archived hour here), talking about the only news story of the day yesterday--a judge's ruling in Mark Green's attempt to get an injuction against giving up nearly a half-million in PAC funds transferred in from his federal committee last year. In case you missed it, the judge said no go (read the full decision here (.pdf)).

McAdams, no surprise, was defensive of Green, and continued to rail against a charge that I didn't hear anyone making--that this was "dirty money"--and that Green is somehow slimy for having it. I'm not calling Green slimy, certainly, and no one else did either. Not even the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which brought the complaint originally, called it "dirty money"; they just merely said that the PAC transfers were in violation of state law. In addition, we have since learned that, among other things, individual contributions in that federal transfer were made by people who have also maxed out their donations to Green's state campaign, putting a number of individuals over their statutory contribution limits. Again, this money is not "dirty," and no one is accusing Green of "laundering" money--but McAdams apparently likes his straw men and kept that up for much of the hour, including in response to my question.

I called in (I was, I think, the second caller after the 4:30 news break) because I wanted to bring up a key element in the judge's decision, which was that Green's transfer of funds actually seems a violation of federal law--something neither McAdams nor the other callers had mentioned. Even the on-air producer seemed incredulous when I told him that's what I wanted to talk about, because he'd apparentlty not heard of it either. I made another point first, though, because I heard McAdams say that Green's campaign had treated the transfer of funds as a "lump sum," rather than as individual contributions, and that that was what made the transfer okay.

For some 30 years, I said, the Elections Board has required all of these transfers to be itemized; in other words, Green could not have assumed this could be treated as a lump sum rather than itemized contributions. Then I made my point about BCRA (McCain-Feingold): Under the law at the time Green made the transfer, he would have had to comply with state law, which made at least some of that transfer illegal. In fact, under McAdams's assertion that the transfer was a lump sum, then that actually would have made almost all of that transfer illegal. From the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice brief (.pdf) in the case:
In late 2004 [. . .] Congress amended BCRA by [. . .] allow[ing] federal campaign committees to move funds to state campaign committees, but only in the form of "donations," and such donations were required to be made in conformance with state law. The impact of this change in BCRA for Wisconsin was that a federal campaign could now make a donation to a state or local campaign committee in Wisconsin, subject to the applicable laws regarding such donations. In Wisconsin, a committee is limited by statute to only contributing certain amounts to campaigns. For Governor, for example, a committee may contribute no more than $43,128. Therefore, following the 2004 amendments to BCRA, a federal campaign committee was limited to contributing no more than $43,128 to any candidate for Governor in Wisconsin during an election cycle. [. . .]

At the time the federal funds were converted for Green, the law governing the use of federal funds in a state campaign was codified in [federal and state law]. Nowhere in either statute was the wholesale conversion of federal campaign funds to a state campaign allowed. Indeed, quite the opposite was true.

If the federal campaign committee funds are "converted" (as Green maintains) to a state campaign committee as separate, segregated contributions, then the contribution limits would apply. Alternatively, if the converted federal campaign committee is but another committee and is converted as a single, unitary lump sum, that amount becomes a lump sum that is subject to the limits of a committee [i.e., $43,128]. To suggest, as Green does, that it can avoid compliance with [Wisconsin law's pre-January 25, 2005] limits simply by calling these funds a "conversion" rather than a contribution (when the term "conversion" does not even exist in the state statutes) would allow coy semantics to undermine the clear mandate and purpose of [Wisconsin law]. A duck does not become a goose simply because one calls it a goose.
Or, for my Minnesota readers, a gray duck.

So McAdams wanted it both ways--as, apparently, Mark Green does. The transferred funds came in a lump sum, so that they're not subject to limits on PACs and individuals. But at the same time, they were funds from PACs and individuals, so they're not subject to the $43,128 limit on "donations" as provided by the federal law (incorporating Wisconsin statues) that was in effect at the time.

Now, unfortunately, I was in my car, and I didn't have all of that in front of me. If I did--and if a low cell battery and time constraints would have allowed me a follow-up--I would have challenged McAdams's curt dismissal of my question, since he still seemed stuck on the "the day after" line about the State Elections Board's Emergency Rule.

Now, it is true that the SEB met the day after Green transferred his money (it was nice of the SEB to give notice when that meeting would be, so Green could have a deadline). But that meeting, on January 26, 2005, was, as the DOJ notes, "for the purpose, among others, of reviewing potential rule revisions to harmonize the Board's rules with the changes in federal law" that took effect December 8, 2004. Regardless of when the rule changed, I wanted to tell McAdams, the law prohibited the transfer as it happened at the time it happened. Period.

I'm guessing that McAdams had not read the DOJ's brief, since he seemed oblivious to all of that. I'm also guessing he hadn't read the judge's decision, since he also seemed oblivious to the ruling itself. And that ruling, as a part of making the case that Green would not get the injuction, made it clear that the logic McAdams was using was both faulty and contrary to the plain language of all the governing statutes--federal and state--on the day that Green made his transfer. From the decision:
In short, a "donation" under [BCRA] is a "contribution" subject to the limitations and other regulations contained in Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin statutes governing the use of money in Wisconsin political campaigns. Thus, even if the court were to adopt Green's argument that the Elections Board should be enjoined from enforcing its Emergency Rule and Order because they are illegal for any number of reasons--arguments which raise some serious and legitimate questions--Green still cannot succeed in the ultimate merits of this case because the Court cannot grant the requested declaratory judgment finding "that funds a state campaign committee has on hand when it converts from a federal registration are not counted against Wisconsin's contribution limits." Controlling federal law, through its incorporation of Wisconsin's campaign finance law, in fact compels the opposite finding.

For the same reasons that Green cannot demonstrate that he will likely succeed on the merits of the case, he falls short of showing irreparable harm if the temporary injunction is not granted. That is to say, whether the Elections Board is enjoined from enforcing the Emergency Rule and Order or not, Green's duties under the law remain the same. Under [BCRA] and Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin statutes which it incorporates, Green must subject the donation from the federal campaign to the provisions of Wisconsin law governing "contributions" to political campaigns. Thus, at least at this very preliminary stage of the lawsuit where pleadings are not even complete, it is simply unnecessary for this Court to enter the thorny procedural and constitutional thicket created by the Election Board's actions in promulgating the Emergency Rule and issuing its Order, let alone allow it to sidetrack the Court's decision on Green's Motion for Temporary Injunction. The bottom line is that the Elections Board reached the correct result, regardless of the infirmities, if any, in its process.
McAdams's response to me completely avoided the implications of the judge's ruling; instead he railed against people claiming Green was "laundering dirty money"--a claim I didn't make at all. McAdams also tried the Tom Barrett precedent, ignoring the fact that the law has changed since 2001. ("Green seeks to exploit this same [Barrett] loophole," the DOJ notes, "even though the board's decision in Barrett was not only wrong as a matter of law, it has long been rendered moot by intervening changes in the law on both the federal and state level.")

So here are my further questions to McAdams: How can you be so completely dismissive of the law? Do you really mean to say that you believe that Green's transfer should not have been limited by what Wisconsin law allowed on the day he made the transfer? Why do you insist on trying to have it both ways--that these were individual and PAC monies but not subject to the limits on those? How is it that you can spend a significant portion of your hour on the radio battling straw men, instead of addressing the issues of substance raised by callers, the DOJ, and the judge's ruling?

I realize, of course, that the radio conversation is over. But, Professor, you're welcome to use the comments below to answer.

--

On a related note, and a propos to my post of last Friday, Seth Zlotocha made a prediction yesterday that turned out to be right. Sigh.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Strengthen Our Schools

I'm helping out the folks at One Wisconsin Now set up a listserve/ group blog/ issues forum sort of thing called Strengthen our Schools. It's supposed to be a place to talk education issues and activism. I encourage all of my readers interested in that sort of thing to head on over and sign up.

I've got two posts up right now, one on the 70% deception and one on the end of collective bargaining, both contained in Green's education proposal that I wrote about last week. I expanded on both issues from the brief overview my post here provided.

Check it out.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Anti-Doyle MJS Editors Driving Campaign Narrative

A couple of years back, during the 2004 election season, I got an email from a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who could not believe, as he called it, the "hard right in its political coverage this fall. [. . .] Every day gets sadder. The only way its going to stop is if someone calls the editors on it, and that's not something that's going to happen from inside the paper."

Well, I'm calling the editors on it now: There is indeed a very clear pattern of the Journal Sentinel's news editors driving the narrative around the campaign for governor over the summer and now into the fall.

The latest round is but a symptom: In yesterday's paper, they give lengthy, front-page-above-the-fold treatment to legal (though monumentally stupid and ethically iffy) behavior on the part of the Doyle campaign--and, as Gretchen Schuldt notes, bury as an afterthought on page seven the story of Mark Green's dodging campaign contribution limits, an activity that is, indeed, illegal.

Bill Christofferson (I think) noted a while back--though I can't find the link now--that the way the Journal Sentinel has tried to create the appearance of a corrupt, pay-for-play Doyle Administration is at odds with how the paper covered Tommy Thompson: When Tommy used to meet with developers and utilities, he was lauded for creating investment opportunities in the state. When Doyle's staff does the same thing, it merits front-page-above-the-fold headlines about whether or not there is corruption and scandal.

And that front-page-above-the-fold treatment has been going strong all summer for Doyle and any little thing that could create even the tiniest sense that Doyle's is the most corrupt adminsitration since Boss Tweed. And yet, Mark Green is a line-toeing member of the most corrupt Congress in recent memory and his legislating on behalf of donors has merited exactly one front-page-above-the-fold story.

Even with news that came out yesterday, we can see how the Journal Sentinel is downplaying those things that make Doyle look clean and Green look dirty.

The front-page-above-the-fold story is all about Green going to court to fight that dirty elections board which, as the very first paragraph reminds us, ruled against Green only after Doyle wielded his undue influence. And, in fact, after only a brief few paragraphs on Green's transfer, the story jumps right into reactions to the revelation that Doyle's campaign lobbied the board. What's missing is information from the Justice Department Brief (.pdf) that explains quite clearly how and when Mark Green broke federal and state law. The DOJ makes it clear that this is not retroactive application of a rule passed "the day after," as the paper called it in its story on Doyle's lobbying yesterday, but rather clear and unequivocal violations of the law:
The language of the [the law] as it existed at the time of the Barrett decision, specifically required an itemized reporting of the funds that were being transferred. [. . .] There would be no reason for requiring such itemized reporting if the transferred funds were not subject to the contribution limits. [. . .]

In 2004, Congress amended BCRA [(McCain-Feingold) to allow] federal campaign committees to move funds to state campaign committees, but only in the form of "donations," and such donations were required to be made in conformance with state law. [ . . .]

As a legal matter, therefore, Green's action in converting federal funds to a state campaign was contrary to both state and federal laws.
None of that made the article.

And the front-page metro section story is the news that, as I predicted, a lawsuit alleging pay-for-play was thrown out. When I first called that lawsuit baseless, I epxlained how the paper was still making Doyle look guilty, and they do it here, giving the thrown-out plantiff the sub-headline to call Doyle improper in big letters and explaining away the decision as one made on a technicality. The article ends with a re-hash of all the other ongoing--and media-driven--investigations.

The paper's playing up of anything that can be portrayed as scandalous--even when it is not, even when that same action was praised in Republcan governors--combined with the paper's playing down of Green's deliberate violations of campaign finance law, is driving the media narrative for this campaign. Doyle is dirty and Mark Green is a victim, if all you read is the state's largest daily paper. And with no major media to counteract this (Journal Corp owns so much of Milwaukee's media), the storyline is taking hold. It puts me in mind of the media's simplification of the narrative in the Bush-Gore campaign (Gore was a liar, Bush was a nice guy)--and we all know how that story turned out.

The editorial pages of the paper--which endorsed Kerry, despite the rightward direction of the 2004 news pages, and will probably endorse Doyle--at least takes a moment to recognize the complicity of Republicans in the current mess. They write today that every Republican who opposed the kind of changes to the state elections board that would have stopped the ability of Doyle's lawyers to lobby them and now complains about it is merely being partisan. (They don't mention the irony of the Republicans' earlier filing a complaint against Tom Barrett for doing what they said Green was allowed to do.) But the editors then call the elections board's rejection of what is clearly illegal money (see above!) a "blatantly partisan" move. So, again, Green is the victim.

If Doyle loses this election, we'll know where to place the blame. We know who's writing the narrative.

Friday Random Ten

The actually random, if you can believe that Edition

1. "Jesus on the Grille" Willy Porter from Dog Eared Dream
2. "Blackbirds" Erin McKeown from Live at the World Cafe
3. "Government Walls" James from James
4. "Keeping Awake" The Innocence Mission from Glow
5. "Just the Way That It Was" Vance Gilbert from Fugitives
6. "Painter's Eye" Erin Corday from Waterbug Anthology
7. "Alice's Champagne Palace" Ellis Paul from Live at High Noon Saloon
8. "Back Door Man" Sarah McLachlan from Solace
9. "Too Bad" Patty Larkin from Red = Luck
10. "Angel from Montgomery" Susan Tedeschi from Just Won't Burn

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More Reactions to Green's Education "Plan"

Unsurprisingly, the unions don't like Mark Green's education "plan," released Tuesday. WEAC's release is the only one on-line right now; they point out, as I did, that the "plan" is a "mish-mash of half-policies--cooked up in Washington, D.C. think tanks--that ignores the most meaningful research on education, does not recognize the importance of local control, and disregards much of what we know about what works for Wisconsin’s great schools."

AFT-Wisconsin's release, which showed up in my mailbox but not yet on their website, reminds us of Green's Congressional record on education. "As Congressman," the AFT notes, "Mark Green voted against $7.8 billion in funding for education programs, and voted to cut $806 million from No Child Left Behind, an already underfunded mandate." Makes it hard to trust that Green now has the best interest of kids in mind.

MTEA, my union, also dropped a release in my mailbox before it went online: "None of these initiatives," they remind us, "have a proven track record for increasing student achievement. [. . .] The real solutions to creating strong schools and strong communities are providing adequate funding for our schools, implementing research-based reforms like small class sizes and early education opportunities, and providing professional development to help teachers improve their practice." That is indeed where the research shows investment makes the biggest difference, and Green's "plan" is silent on all of them.

All of the unions whose reactions I've seen have missed the point that Green's plan means, basically, the end of collective bargaining as we know it, by eliminating the last incentive schools boards had not to impose a qualified economic offer (QEO) every time negotiations roll around. I shudder to think what would have happened to my own contract--when the superintendent initially called for all employees, even those only earning $10,000 or $12,000 a year, to contribute up to $8,000 a year out of their salary for health care. We went to arbitration and got an okay deal (though not the best deal for taxpayers) because the QEO law as written is still a double-edged sword for districts. Green's plan takes away the edge of the sword that hurts them, and adds another edge to be used against unions.

Two editorials popped up in the Google News this morning about Green's "plan," including one from the state's largest daily paper which says Green's "ideas" are "worth debating." They then proceed to dismiss all the aspects of Green's "plan" they discuss except one--expanding the Milwaukee voucher program to include schools in the whole county, not just the city. They don't even touch the most significant elements of the plan, like the so-called "70% solution" or the end of collective bargaining on compensation issues altogether. The editorial seems as empty an exercise as Green's "plan" in the first place. C'mon, editors, you can do better than that.

The second is an op-ed from the chair of the UW's Badger Herald editorial board. If this is the kind of journalistic leader our future holds, jeebus help us:
The Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of Teachers got more specific in their press release, which they released a month ago after gaining wind of Mr. Green’s proposal. Quoting a Standard & Poor’s study, AFT-Wisconsin said “there is no significant positive correlation between the percentage of funds that districts spend on instruction and the percentage of students who score proficient or higher on state reading or math tests.”

The quote, of course, suggests there is no connection between the performance of a teacher and the performance of his or her students. A school district might as well fire all its teachers and instead show students a continuous loop of film strips every day--it would save a boatload of money on instructional costs and students’ test performance wouldn’t drop at all.
Just . . . wow. AFT's quote "suggests" no such thing, there, Bucky. Remember for a second the definition of "classroom spending" that the national "65% Solution" movement uses--anything from football uniforms to books and computers--much of which tells us nothing about the performance of a teacher. But worst of all, our friend Bucky didn't even bother to look up the original S&P study (.pdf) to find out if S&P actually agrees with his interpretation of a one-line quote. And the answer is, um, no (my emphasis):
Standard & Poor’s analysis of district level spending and student achievement data in the states that are currently considering a 65 Percent Solution reveals that higher instructional spending allocations are not consistently linked to higher achievement levels. This does not mean that how districts spend their money does not matter; in fact, allocating more money to instruction is a laudable goal. However, mandating a specific spending allocation is not likely to provide a “silver bullet” solution to raising student achievement. The wide range in districts’ academic proficiency rates at any given spending allocation suggests that the specific ways that school districts use their instructional dollars may have as much, if not more, of an impact on student achievement as the percentage of dollars spent in the classroom.
To be fair to Bucky Badger, he does go on to re-write Green's 70% proposal to something he likes better before declaring it a rousing success. But even then--a proposal to specifically limit the amount spent on "administration"--Bucky doesn't take into account the very different needs of districts all across the state or provide a definition for what he thinks "administration" means. I worry for the future of journalism indeed.

And, of course, I worry about the strength of K-12 education is Green gets his muddy mitts all over it.

But my favorite reaction to Green's education "plan"? The announcement that a national pro-voucher group is going to spend $1 million to help Green gut public education in the state. Hm . . . Green announces a massive expansion of vouchers on Tuesday, and within a week a pro-voucher group is buying TV time . . . Must just be a coincidence.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Media reaction to Green's Education "Plan"

After spending so much time explaining why Green's "plan" is empty rhetoric, recycled tricks, and the end of collective bargaining as we know it, I thought I should see how much of that the media reported.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that Green "scrimps on the details," though the reporter doesn't name all the missing details--such as how high Green would raise the income cap for voucher families, where the merit pay would come from, how these changes can happen when Green's budget proposal calls for freezing school spending, and how school districts are supposed to get their kids to school if they can't pay for buses. She also doesn't mention that the plan would be the end of collective bargaining as we know it.

The Associated Press article going around focuses a lot of attention on whether Green would try to keep Tommy Thompson's promise of 2/3 funding for schools:
If state support for schools is frozen, as Green has proposed, any additional costs incurred by schools would have to either be made up through other fund sources such as property taxes, or the schools would have to make cuts.
Whether Green wants schools to raise your taxes or raise class sizes, he doesn't say. The AP article also misses the fact that the plan is the end of collective bargaining as we know it.

The Capital Times draws the distinction between Green's possible merit pay ideas and Doyle's more sensible proposal from earlier this year, which proposed "differentiated teacher pay to encourage teachers to gain additional knowledge and skills that help kids learn or to accept teaching positions in hard-to-staff schools," according to Doyle's people in that article. In other words, is it more important to reward that great English teacher (of course I'm talking about me), or to encourage people to become science or special education teachers, or to teach in districts like Milwaukee and Racine where they can do the most good? The Cap Times piece says nothing about Green's proposal bringing about the end of collective bargaining as we know it.

You can also catch the Democrats' take on Green's "plan" here, though as you might suspect, they sound kind of biased. And they don't mention that the proposal is basically the end of collective bargaining as we know it.

Green's Education "Plan"

What? What's everybody looking at me for? You think I think Mark Green's so-called education "plan" is worth a post?

Fine. I'll do it. I always do it.

Green's release is here, with a longer pdf at his website. Here's the gist:
  • Expanding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
  • The "70 percent solution"
  • Eliminating the Milwaukee Public Schools teacher residency requirement
  • Letting local school boards to implement cost saving measures through competitive bidding
  • Merit pay for teachers
  • Expansion of charter schools, including "virtual" charters
  • Updating our academic standards
  • Raising Wisconsin’s high school graduation requirements in math and science to three full credits
  • Allowing school districts to fire or refuse to employ dangerous convicted felons
The biggest thing I see in this proposal is, essentially, eliminating the ability of teachers to bargain collectively. But I'll get to that in a moment, pausing first for a bit of comedy gold.

Inflation
Conservatives across the country right now have a new favorite one-trick pony: the "65% solution." Yes, that's right. The movement across the country calls for 65%, not Green's 70%. This is because Wisconsin's school districts currently average better than 66% of total spending on classroom education. While I guess we'd be the envy of movement conservatives everywhere already, Green wants to cinch that straight-jacket a little tighter.

I've linked to it before, and I'll do it again: I'm pretty sure the strategy session where Green came up with the 70% looked a lot like this.

However it happened, though, it's a gimmick, designed to sound good but full of the kind of twisted logic from ALEC and other conservative brain-trusts (and I use both of those words ironically) that brought you TABOR. For example:
[T]he scheme borrows its definition of "classroom" costs from the federal National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and applies it in a way never intended by NCES or anyone else. The results can be absurd. Spending on football programs, for example, would be allowed, but not on librarians, nurses, counselors, or the buses and bus drivers needed to get kids to school in the first place. [. . .] Prominent conservatives like Chester Finn of the Fordham Foundation and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute have condemned the plan, as well. Writing in the conservative National Review, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jay P. Greene said it's "horribly wrongheaded."

Standard & Poor's, the company that evaluates the credit rating of public corporations, was asked to do a statistical review of school districts and they concluded that no spending level is “a ‘silver bullet’ solution.” Across the country, there are some highly successful school districts that spend less than 65% of their budgets in the classroom. There are unsuccessful districts that spend more. The PTA has described the proposal as a “one size fits all” bludgeon that ignores the needs of differing populations. Rural programs would see transit funds slashed while poorer districts could lose school nutrition programs that are a clearly documented aid to learning. [. . .] And the backers of the 65% Distraction have even be admirably honest with their true goals. As laid out in a leaked memo, Tim Mooney and Patrick Byrne, the leading advocates of the bill, make it clear that they see this move as a political one, to create division among teachers and administrators and begin laying the groundwork for vouchers, all while providing an opportunity to funnel soft money into ballot issue campaigns. Here’s a good rule of thumb: People who write memos about how to take political advantage of children should not be responsible for writing education policy.
There's more on that leaked memo here--and you know when even the pro-voucher Jay Greene is calling your BS, you've crossed a line. Though the details of Green's plan differ somewhat from critiques above--apparently he'll deign to count librarians--Mark Green should still be ashamed to be associated with anything this transparently phony and potentially damaging to a number of different districts around the state.

Expansion
The expansion of voucher schools is not a surprise, either; it seems like Green is resurrecting the Thomas More High School Life-Saver Bill, wanting to 1) blow the newly-enlarged cap, 2) open all Milwaukee County private schools and private schools-to-be to voucher kids; and 3) up the income limit to some unspecified larger amount. When they sold us this plan more than 15 years ago, we were warned by some of the Milwaukee-area Democrats who were willing to give the experiment a try. Initial supporters like Annette Polly Williams have distanced themselves from current efforts to expand the program because it's lost its focus from the poor students who couldn't afford a private school on their own. Look at where the focus is now: Green clearly wants to expand the taxpayer-funded bailout of the area's religious schools.

As for the merits of the voucher program, well, type "voucher" into the "Search This Blog" box at the top of this page just in case you don't know what I think of it.

Residency
Mark Green relies on a flawed WPRI study to make the case for legislatively ending the requirement that MPS teachers live in Milwaukee. As I noted at the time, the study shows that only 5% of the teachers leaving MPS since 1992 cited the residency rule as a reason why, and applying the heavy thumb of the state to fix such an overstated problem bypasses the negotiations process and sets a bad precedent. Talk like this also undermines the work that has been done in the past couple of years dancing around a possible negotiated settlement on the issue between the union and the district.

Green, of course, has a history of not particularly caring whether or not the heavy thumb of the state mucks up the collective bargaining process: The QEO is a product of the years Green spent in the legislature. And then there's . . .

Bye Bye Bargaining
From the pdf explaining the plan, my emphasis:
A recent study conducted by WPRI found that “the Wisconsin Education Association Insurance Corporation (WEAIC) writes health insurance coverage on teachers in approximately 78 percent of the districts across the state. In most districts, the carrier has been chosen through a no-bid process.” [. . .] Mark Green will enact legislation that empowers local school boards to implement cost saving measures through a process of competitive bidding for health care. Specifically, Mark Green will enact legislation that prohibits bargaining over the selection of a health care coverage plan if the employer offers to enroll its employees in a plan provided to local government employers by the Group Insurance Board, or in a plan that is substantially similar to that offered by the Group Insurance Board.
That's right--rather than allowing for "bidding," the primary thrust of this proposal is actually to give districts the green light to completely bypass collective bargaining over the issue of health coverage. It's not enough, apparently, that Wisconsin teachers are the only employee class in the country whose compensation is legislatively capped (under the QEO), now Green wants to totally remove the ability to bargain over a fundamental part of that compensation.

This makes sense, I suppose, if you're the anti-union Mark Green, since the major flaw of the QEO from the administrative side--the point of view of districts and school boards--is that the imposition of the QEO in any bargaining cycle means that the details of any part of the compensation don't change; the total compensation is merely limited to a small increase. That means if a district inposes a QEO, it will be stuck with whatever health care package existed in the previous bargain. Green now wants to eliminate that last remnant of bargaining: Under his plan, a district could unilaterally impose a QEO and, at the same time, unilaterally change the health care part of the package.

You may as well just dissolve the union. Not that Green and his supporters would mind that--in fact, some would probably like that to be his top priority. But just because you don't like the union doesn't mean, again, that the WPRI study is factual. No surpise, I suppose, but WEAC disputes the study's results:
Fact: Competition is alive and well in the business of providing health insurance to public school districts. Under existing law, school districts can choose to join the state plan, can choose to self-insure, or can choose from among a variety of health plans being offered in the marketplace. In fact, many of the state’s largest school districts, such as Milwaukee and Madison, are self-insured. Only two districts, however, have chosen to join the state plan.
And, funny enough, the "study" names those two districts and how much they could save if they chose the state plan . . . Makes you want to cry, doesn't it?

Demerits
This is the actual paragraph from Green's position paper:
Issue an Executive Order creating an Excellence in Education Task Force to develop a statewide performance-based pay system for Wisconsin’s teachers. This task force will be comprised of parents, teachers, school administrators, school board members, civic leaders, business leaders, educational policy experts, policy makers and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Its mandate will be to develop a statewide performance-based merit pay system that rewards teachers for academic excellence and increased student achievement rather than for the number of years on the job.
This is nothing more than a boilerplate "I'll have someone study that" dodge that still lets him have a nice soundbite for the conservatives in the audience. It's among the emptiest rhetoric I've seen lately. Either that, or Green really thinks that he can convene a panel to do what no one has been able to do before--develop an equitable and practical merit-pay system.

I often tell the story of my first year of teaching, out in the 'burbs, which, I am certain, would have been my highest-paid year if you went by merit pay. Not because I was better then--I recoil in horror at the memories of how bad I was--but because those students would have done well on any assessment measure whether they were taught by a master teacher or a monkey. The students I teach now, well, it's difficult just to get some of them to take the test in the first place.

The Rest of It
The rest of Green's plan--from allowing more charters through UW system schools to upping math and science requirements--are mostly re-hashes of old ideas. Governor Doyle, for example, made the math and science proposal two years ago, to a lukewarm reception and reminders that most Wisconsin students already far exceed the two-year requirement. As we learned a couple of weeks ago, the state Department of Public Instruction has already begun the process of getting a rewrite of the state's standards underway--and Mark Green, we learn, relies on the ridiculous Fordham study about state standards that inexplicably rated Wisconsin worse than all those states we far outperform.

All told, then, the Mark Green "plan" for education in Wisconsin is at best a collection of stale conservative ideas backed by clearly flawed studies or anti-union ideology. At worst, it's a cynical and empty pile of rhetorical sugar that the yeast that are his supporters can gorge on--and, predictably, they're already blowing gas: Owen uncritically calls it "awesome." Fraley says the package is "significant" and makes explicit the notion of making unions irrelevant. DiGaudio calls this all "ambitious."

Without any actual examination of what's in these proposals or an understanding of the underlying issues, Green's supporters have just jerked their knees with joy that Green wants to expand choice and weaken or eliminate the collective bargaining power of that evil union. They don't give any thought for whether these proposals would do thing one to improve teaching and learning or save taxpayers any real money.

And these proposals won't: What Greens's got is a collection of empty rhetoric and promises to help private schools, not public ones. You've got the end of collective bargaining with no promise of reward (except a commission to study merit pay) for teachers who lose their protections. You've got gimmicky one-size-fits-all solutions imposed on the hundreds of widely varying Wisconsin school districts. There is nothing about addressing, for example, the achievement gap or, as Doyle has done, providing students an incentive to take accelerated classes. How anyone can call that awesome or ambitious or significant is beyond me.

You want to talk ambitious? You should see what Nelson Eisman's up to. While I don't endorse everything he says, he at least recognizes that the first and best big step toward addressing school finance and tax issues is to cut the cost of health care for everyone in the state. I've been saying that for years. I've also been saying for years that the problem with the Milwaukee Public Schools is not a schools problem per se--it doesn't matter if the teacher of that gang-raped 11-year-old lives in Milwaukee or in Wauwatosa, or if she goes to an MPS school or somewhere on a voucher. There are problems endemic to this city that no amount of tinkering inside school walls will fix. Other districts--like the beleaguered Florence County--have completely different sets of issues. Green's cookie-cutter and red-meat approach shows just how ignorant he is of the complexities of restoring and maintaining quality public education in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

If I were candidate Bobot

The city of Milwaukee has finished its hand recount of ballots, and has come up with a ballot total (46,548) that more closely matches the vote totals from Tuesday's election (40,971 for the highest-voted office, Milwaukee County Sheriff).

It seems unlikely that enough of the 5,500 or so ballots that make up the difference were both Democratic and had a vote on them for Vince Bobot, though his is probably the only race whose margin of victory is in the margin of difference. That's one legitimate reason to ask for a recount, and even offer to pay for it, even if it probably won't change the result:
Surrounded by 70 cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters on W. Oklahoma Ave., Bobot vowed to press on with a recount, even though he will have to do so at his own expense. He said he also is considering a write-in campaign for Milwaukee County sheriff in the general election Nov. 7.

He expressed concern that election officials might not finish the recount before they have to print up and mail out absentee ballots for the general election. [. . .] He said his campaign also had received "anywhere from 50 to 100 reports of discrepancies" in the vote.

"But why speculate. The facts are there. The ballots are in someone's possession. They can be checked out. (This) can be adequately done, and I'm willing to pay for it," he said.
But there's also a suggestion in the article that Bobot is thinking of mounting a quixotic write-in campaign. If he really wants to see Sheriff Clarke out of office--and for the good of the county, a lot of us do--then his best bet is to endorse and campaign for Don Holt.

But, Jay! you are screaming in horror at your computer monitor, Don Holt is a Republican! Yeah? And? I'm as partisan a Democrat as they come, but work with me here: There will be two candidates for Milwaukee County Sheriff on the ballot in November, one of whom has been a failure at the job and one of whom has a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, including management experience. It isn't about being a Democrat or a Republican in his race, though I would argue that the choice here is between a Republican and a Republican who lies and calls himself a Democrat. It's about being a good cop, and a good manager, and concerned with making sure the county is safe and day-to-day operations don't suffer under the ego of someone who sees Sheriff as a stepping stone to something bigger.

I'm constantly amazed at the number of conservatives, both in comments here to my posts about Bobot and elsewhere, who reflexively believed that Bobot was going to be some kind of soft-on-crime bleeding heart. He would not; his dedication (and decoration) as a police officer--and his time as a judge and city attorney--proved quite the opposite. But as with George W. Bush, conservatives are buying tough talk from Clarke. As much as Clarke may run around and claim to know what this city needs to stop its violent crime problem (what, one middle-aged deputy on foot?), he has shown that he doesn't actually care about managing anything beyond his image. I challenge anyone to name one thing--just one--that Clarke has done, not just said, to actually improve the situation in Milwaukee County or in the city. Just one.

So what Bobot should do--what I would do, were I him, anyway--is endorse and campaign for Holt. Start slow; have an upset staffer ("I can't believe Vince would meet with a Republican!") leak to the press that Bobot's meeting Holt. Deny everything, but remain "committed to changing the leadership of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department."

Then show up at a Holt rally, unannounced (except leaked). Holt "spontaneously" invites Bobot on stage to praise his long service to the community, and, in another "spontaneous" moment, in front of cheering crowds, pull the trigger on the endorsement.

The state and county Democratic parties will do nothing to help National Black Republican Association member (maybe ex-member) Clarke, or honest Republican Holt. But Bobot could probably do quite a lot to motivate Milwaukee County voters to split their tickets and elect someone who can actually do the job. A write-in campaign will fail; an all-out effort to elect a solid candidate could work.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Some folks mortgage their houses . . .

. . . and some folks pay themselves a salary:
[R]ecords show that [Congressional Candidate Bryan] Kennedy paid himself a salary of $4,100 in July and again in August from his campaign [. . .]. Kennedy, a long-shot Democrat running against House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, confirmed Friday that he made another $4,100 payment to himself from his campaign fund on Sept. 1 and will continue to do so each month through December. Total projected campaign dollars he plans to pocket: $24,600.

Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack said that in 2002 his agency made it kosher for candidates to dip into their campaign funds. But the vast majority has avoided the practice out of fear of giving opponents ammunition. "It's not typical by any stretch," Biersack said. "It's relatively unusual." [. . .]

In a Friday interview, Kennedy defended using his contributors' generosity to put food on his table, suggesting that this is the only way a middle-class guy can run for federal office. [. . .] Rather, Kennedy is taking a leave from his job as an assistant professor of Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. [. . .]

Under federal regs, a congressional candidate can use campaign funds to pay himself no more than what his salary was the year before he began running for office, said Biersack. Though it doesn't affect Kennedy, this amount is capped at the current pay for congressmen.

Kennedy used questions about his salary to toss a couple of salvos at Sensenbrenner, a kazillionaire from Menomonee Falls. Besides, Sensenbrenner--like all incumbents--gets paid year-round, whether he is sitting in a hearing or is on the campaign stump. "Why are we paying Sensenbrenner a salary the whole month of August when he's out campaigning?" Kennedy asked.
Spivak and Bice are, as Dan Cody notes, gossipmongers. Occasionally, that gossip is interesting and meaningful; more often, it smells petty. I've known Bryan was paying himself for some time--the subject came up at a variety of forums throughout 2004, how one who is not, as el niños Spice put it, a kazillionaire can run for office. A salary as provided under the FEC guidelines is one way.

Kennedy is not in any way raking in campaign bucks by the, um, kazillions (though you can certainly help him a little bit), and I wish he could spend every last cent on TV against Sensenbrenner. (I think the best ads would just be C-SPAN clips of Sensenbrenner being himself; if that doesn't turn the distrcit off to their Representative, I don't know what will.) But I also know Bryan, and I know that he could not be doing this three-year campaign without some financial assistance for his family. No normal person can.

I can't even take a summer off to hang out by the pool--whatever you think about my cadillac teacher's compensation package--so I know there's no way I could take a sabbatical to run for anything. That, and I don't think anyone would vote for me.

It's frustrating, since some people think this is "funny," and others are raising the inevitable ethical and legal questions, even if it does beat ditch digging. It ends up being a pretty sad commentary on contemporary American politics when double- or triple-mortgaging your house to buy TV ads is more respectable than following the law to feed your family while campaigning.

And it's even more frustrating that Kennedy only makes the paper when the gossipmongers think they've got enough slime to make a column.

A bunch of things to start your week

  • Welcome USA Today readers! The article I was interviewed for about teacher bloggers is running today. I get two whole paragraphs. If you're here for the first time, you may want to read my reactions to being interviewed generally--and some of the issues raised by the reporter specifically--in this post from last month, as I go into much more depth than the article indicates.

  • The USA Today story also has a great list of blogs in the sidebar, including some I read regularly. You should read them, too. One note: Ms. Frizzle has un-anonymized herself and is blogging her Fullbright exchange year in Turkey. (Hat tip to Edwise on that one. And, yes, I still haven't changed that link in my own sidebar, either.)

  • New Rule: Anyone who thinks that conditions at Guantanamo Bay are so great--people like a certain pundit wannabe that some say I have an unhealthy obsession over--should spend time there. And not just like visit as a reporter, either. They should be kidnapped from their houses in the middle of the night, flown there in the company of people who don't speak their language and without being told what's happening or why, and forced to stay there without contact from their families, attorneys, or anyone more helpful than the Red Cross every few weeks. They could even take a detour on the way to some prison in Eastern Europe somewhere for treatments at the day spa waterboarding and more. After five years, without charge, we'll see if they still think it's the greatest place on earth. (The Journal Corp. blogging software is still returning errors when I try to link to specific posts, but the one I'm talking about is the "Ooh, it's so degrading" one.)

  • The National Council of Teachers of English did a massive survey last spring about how No Child Left Behind is affecting (or not) teaching and learning in English teachers' classrooms. I participated, but I don't remember what all of my answers were. I can tell you, however, that my feelings are generally in line with the results:
    This study confirms findings from several recent public opinion polls that the more people know about NCLB, the more inclined they are to have an unfavorable opinion about its effects on public schools, teachers, and students.

    Virtually every poll shows public support for the four goals established by Congress when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001. But, literacy educators agree with the public that the law has failed to improve the education system for schools, teachers, students, and their families by not effectively meeting these goals. The table below shows a striking majority of literacy educators see NCLB as being ineffective when asked how well it was meeting its four stated goals:

    Based on what you’ve seen in your school and classroom over the past four years, to what extent do you think NCLB has been effective in reaching the four reform goals described by the U.S. Department of Education? [Number of teachers answering g]enerally ineffective (1 – 3 on a six point effectiveness scale).
    • Encouraging stronger accountability for results?--58%
    • Providing more freedom for schools and communities?--93%
    • Encouraging proven educational methods?--81%
    • Providing more choices for parents?--81%

    In addition, only 15% of literacy educators reported that NCLB has been effective in improving educational equity in their schools, a core rationale for passage of the Act in 2001.
    Read the whole thing, as they say, including some actual statements from literacy teachers about how NCLB has not improved literacy education.

  • Michael J. Mathais has written probably the best post to come out of the Cheddarsphere in the last week:
    Although her picture stayed at JSOnline for two days at the start of this week, it seemed crowded away by the election news and speculation over whether President Bush had delivered too partisan a 9/11 speech.

    The picture was gone by Wednesday, but the story had garnered some interest. By 10:00 p.m. that day it was on a list of “most viewed” stories.

    Merideth Howard, an Army reservist from Waukesha, told relatives she didn’t know why she had been sent to Afghanistan, fretted about her training, and worried that, at the age of 52, she was too old to be in a combat zone.
    Please, please, please read the rest.

  • Seth nails the budget debate between Jim Doyle and Mark Green:
    So getting back to the contradictions laid out by Doyle and Green in this current election race, the key to electoral success is really not what the candidates say about the budget -- they're both going to say contradictory stuff -- but rather how they say it. And on this point, so far, Green is getting slammed.

    A look at the JS article this morning tells us that Doyle's election year proposals would cost an estimated $66 million per year, while Green's would run at least $148 million per year. I bolded the "at least" because it's central to the problems Green has been having when discussing the budget.
    The significant difference on budgets, to me, between these two, is that Jim Doyle took office four years ago with a massive structural debt and budget shortfall from the Republican Thompson-McCallum years, and had to fix it. His fixes have been imperfect, but this state is now on a course that doesn't add up to insolvency. Mark Green, on the other hand, has been a part of Bush's Congress, where the mantra has been "cut taxes, raise spending." And look at where the national debt has gone. Is that the kind of budgeting experience we want in Madison? I think not.

  • All those Republicans--I'm looking at you, Fred--who said they'd disapprove of ABC's phony "Path to 9/11" if it contained invented scenes about Bush, well, it does. I'll wait here for the condemnations.

  • Along the same lines, a number of conservative bloggers are sure that the Valerie Plame outing controversy is over now that Richard Armitage has been revealed as one of Bob Novak's sources. But Novak keeps changing his story, so you gotta wonder what else he's hiding.

  • Kudos to Fair Wisconsin for a good fight so far against the anti-civil-unions-and-any-substantially-similar-arrangement amendment. They've done some great organizing locally, and they have another knock-out ad (opens to a Quicktime movie).

  • Those wacky white supremacists. Always rallying around something.

  • In the Wisconsin 8th CD, where Steve Kagen is going to beat John Gard in a few weeks, the National Republican Congressional Committee is, as I first reported here, planning to spend a ton of money on independent expenditure ads. Carrie Lynch comments here, and Cory Liebmann suggests that the NRCC really needs to look at their own candidate before making ads against Kagen.

    Nationally, the story is much the same. As Chris Bowers points out, the Republicans so far have outspent Democrats, but the Dems have spent zero dollars in defense while Reps have spent 85% of their total defending seats like the WI-08. Chris has it laid out quite clearly in handy table format for you.

  • The tax cuts didn't create jobs. Period.

  • Anyone like me, who plans to do candidate advocacy on-line this year, should spend some time with the Net Democracy Guide.

  • Finally, a question for Milwaukee-area iPod + iTrip users. What channel are you using? I've kind of settled on 88.5, but I still get static sometimes driving around town.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Crybaby

Hey, did you hear the one about the bill in the Senate that Hillary Clinton (or, as the stable among us call her, Shrillary) voted for, the one that would make it harder for big cities like New York to track criminals and criminal activity? Yeah, Michael Bloomberg, the Republican NYC mayor, was in utter disbelief that Hillary would vote to tie the hands of his police force like that. Did you hear what Hillary called him?

Crybaby! She called him a crybaby!

And of course the right is screaming bloody murder. How, they wonder, can reasonable Democrats anywhere possibly support such a moonbatty, shrill, vile, and immature excuse for a Senator? The demands for an apology--if not her resignation--have been relentless from talk radio, the newspapers, and, of course, FOXNews. My friends tell me it's been hard to be a Democrat in New York these last couple of days, with the embarrassing and childish crybaby hanging over you.

You haven't heard? Really? Oh, right--that's because I think I reversed a fact or two here.

We're not talking about a shrill Democratic member of Congress calling the Republican mayor of her state's largest city a crybaby. No, no, no, that really would have sent the Limbaughs and Hannities and Fred Barneses into screaming rages demanding that Democrat's head on a platter with a side of crow.

The players are actually F. Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Barrett:
The mayor of Milwaukee and the congressman representing most of its suburbs engaged in a heated and somewhat personal long-distance exchange Wednesday over crime and its effect on the city.

The argument began with House Judiciary Committee passage of legislation that would prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from releasing data used to trace guns used in crimes back to the dealers who sold them. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Menomonee Falls, is chairman of the committee.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett [and former Democratic member of Congress] called the approval of the bill "appalling," saying that "the federal government is turning its back on our fight to get illegal guns off the street."

Sensenbrenner, who voted for the bill, called Barrett a "crybaby" who is "attempting to use legislation pending in Congress to cover up his sorry record of controlling crime."
The story goes on from there.

There has been some small outrage; some of us liberal Milwaukee bloggers have hit on the story. Xoff posts twice at Sensenbrenner Watch. Logan (profanity alert) notes that "Sensenbrenner should lose his seat for not having better stock insults."

And it's true that the daily paper today did both blast the bill and wagged its finger at F. Jim over his temper. There's been a small level of tsk-tsking from community leaders, and WAVE, the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, issued a press release.

But there is no wide-spread embarrassment among Sensenbrenner's supporters (he was just "speaking bluntly") or overwhelming media demands for an apology or resignation. Sensenbrenner, as is his wont, is stuck in the mud and won't budge, either from his puerile behavior or his NRA-bought position on the bill. No one is gathering people to march on his offices or organizing email drives (hint, hint--especially constiuents) demanding he start acting like a grown-up and a committee chair.

Of course, since my example above was purely hypothetical, I have no way to know for sure that this is the kind of reaction the right would really have against a Democrat--although I lived through the Howard Dean primary campaign, so I saw all kinds of manufactured outrage over more minor flubs. I don't know if the current lack of a firestorm here is a result of this being a rather parochial battle--who in the national media cares about us in flyover land?--or a lack of liberal outrage infrastructure--talk radio, astroturf campaigns, and so on.

In either case, this incident is just a sad reminder that Sensenbrenner has gone native out in DC, and doesn't really give a rip anymore about what's good for the provinces. The NRA takes precedence over the law-enforcement needs of his dstrict. Yet the elements necessary to hold him accountable--from a tenacious media to competitive redistricting--are sorely lacking. I'm trying to get my hands on a copy of this poll, but if its results are accurate--that F. Jim's net approval rating is negative in his district--it's a signal that the 5th CD could be ready for a change this November. But if there's not even going to be a fuss over his calling Mayor Barrett a crybaby, there's little hope of harnessing that negative sentiment and using it against him.

Friday Random Ten

The Reunion Weekend Edition
Part of this weekend, for me, will be at the alma matter for reunion weekend. See if you can guess how many years it's been.

1. "Pretend" Mark Erelli from Hillbilly Pilgrim
2. "Ten Little Kids" The Jayhawks from Tomorrow the Green Grass
3. "Ten Year Night" Lucy Kaplansky from Ten Year Night
4. "Tender Blindspot" Peter Mulvey from The Trouble with Poets
5. "Bartender" Dave Mathews Band from Busted Stuff
6. "Flight Attendant" Josh Rouse from 1972
7. "Rotary Ten" REM from Automatic for the People
8. "Ten Ton Chain" Fred Eaglesmith from 50 Odd Dollars
9. "Listen for the Laugh" Bruce Cockburn from Anything Anytime Anywhere
10. "Taking it all to Tennessee" Vance Gilbert from Somerville Live

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Islamic Fascism vs. Christian Zealots: A lesson in conservative hypocrisy

(Bumped from Tuesday night, where it got lost among the elections stuff, and updated with more examples. I'm bumping it because I think this deserves more attention, particularly from the conservative portions of the Cheddarsphere. New examples added to the text below are in gray.)

I didn't spend all of Tuesday night watching poll results come in. I also toodled around the Cheddarsphere a little bit and I found--with some measure of predictability--that the right is displeased with our Russ Feingold. Here's what Russ said:
I call on the President to stop using the phrase “Islamic fascists," a label that doesn’t make any sense, and certainly doesn’t help our effort to build a coalition of societies to fight terrorism. The President has often correctly referred to Islam as a religion of peace, but this reckless language, much like his prior reference to the fight against al Qaeda as a ‘crusade,’ completely cuts the other way. Fascist ideology doesn’t have anything to do with the way global terrorist networks think or operate, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world who practice the peaceful teachings of Islam.
There are two key elements to this paragraph. First, there's the all-important question of whether fascist is the right term to describe what it is that we're facing. I say no, as does David Neiwert, who goes further than I would in identifying some calling-the-kettle-blackism. And Neiwert has the background knowledge and the links to prove that it's not fascism at all:
"Islamofascism" is also, as I've pointed out a couple of times, a generally inappropriate term. This is especially so because fascism, as we have known it historically, only arises from a democratic state in a state of decay or crisis. Indeed, fascism, as I've explored in some depth, is a specific pathology constituted of a constellation of certain traits, only some of which are described by Islamic radicalism, and some of which are specifically repudiated by it. Perhaps they intend "Islamic totalitarianism," which would be accurate; but fascism is a very specific kind of totalitarianism, and what we see in the Islamic world today does not fit the description.
And yet conservative Cheddarsphereans have latched on to fascist; it's hard to escape it when even such normally-measured blogger types as Marquette Professor John McAdams seem to have embraced the term. And the debate over fascism's appropriateness precedes Feingold's statement. For example, it came up last week at Michael Caughill's From Where I Sit. My favorite--and don't miss the comments to this one, either--may be last month at Fred Dooley's Real Debate Wisconsin:
Instead of being critical of the President's language, why don't you direct your outrage towards those who are continuing to plan and atempt to put into place terrorists plots. [. . .] Frankly I don't care how you feel about language while other Muslims are trying to kill me.
But focusing on this takes away from what is, to me, the most important part of Feingold's statement and, in fact, represents a serious misreading of it.

This reckless language, Feingold says, [. . .] doesn’t have anything to do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world who practice the peaceful teachings of Islam.

There is a strong case to be made about the imprecise language, but I think what Russ is asking for, instead, is a certain level of sensitivity to the world's second largest religion. Associating fascism, accurate or not, with Islam is not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people across a large swath of the civilized world. But the conservative Cheddarsphere only sees a target. Missing that point entirely, Owen goes off on the Senator, quoting Dictionary.com and, based on some complex linguistic argument, declares Russ "unfit to be President." The Asian Badger wonders if Feingold went "off his meds." Kate pointedly blames Muslims, saying
If they do nothing to help stop the "hijacking" of their religion, then they have no right to be offended. If people claiming to be Christians were behaving in such a barbaric manner, there would be such a backlash, there would be no traction, and they would be extremely lonely in their endeavors.
And finally, Peter DiGaudio, with his usual charm and grace, proclaims that "RUSS LOVES THOSE ISLAMISTS" and calls Islam--not just radical Islam, but all Islam--"a bloodthirsty cult of murder, violence and death."

It took me a couple of days to remember exactly what this whole debate over "Islamic Fascism" reminds me of. But it is, in fact, something that happened right here on the pages of this very blog. Last New Year's Eve, Bryan Kennedy guest-posted about his progressive religious values. Here's how he opened his post:
How is it that conservative religious zealots have seized my Savior and determined His values? Why do they try to tell me how to live my life and how to follow Him? How did they come to the conclusion that Christ was pro-war, pro-business, and that He spouted hatred for people who were not like Him?
I admit, it's no "bloodthirsty cult" kind of talk, but it sure raised hackles! It became the subject of the Spice Boys' second post ever, garnering a terse dismissal. But it was enough to catch Owen's eye:
Ah yes, we can’t be judgmental, can we? Unless, of course, you are a liberal and you are judging conservatives as hateful zealots. Then it’s okay. [. . .] I think it’s funny how so many liberals love to wax moral over the virtues of tolerance and acceptance while rejecting as intolerable a philosophy held by a large portion of the population.
Professor McAdams was also miffed:
[Bryan Kennedy] has posted a tantrum, directed against “conservative religious zealots” on folkbum’s rambles and rants blog. [. . .] There is an excellent Yiddish word to describe what liberals are showing when they talk about religious tolerance. The word is chutzpah.
And should we even talk about how much Fred blew up?
Let me tell you something, in the first 7 words of his "essay" Brian Kennedy managed to insult Christians. That might offend some people, would you not think? Brian Kennedy is running for Congress in a VERY conservative district. What he published here at the very least was monumentaly stupid, though obviously an honest reflection of his beliefs. To Spiceblog, it was just an essay with an odd disclosure.

By the way the 7 words, How is it that conservative religious zealots. I do not really care what else he had to say. My point is in 7 words he managed to insult bunches of Christians by calling them zealots. Not a great way to start an open dialouge is it?
Here's what I see:
  • Bryan Kennedy speaks out against a narrow group of fundamentalists who seem to have hijacked an entire political party and ruined, for many of us, a peaceful and loving religion. Owen, Fred, and Prof. McAdams--all Christians who feel unfairly maligned--find that unacceptable.
  • George W. Bush throws around the emotionally charged word fascist, which may or may not accurately describe a narrow group of fundamentalists who seem to have hijacked and ruined a religion of love and peace. Owen and other Cheddarsphereans (I can't even imagine what the national bloggers are saying) find that not only acceptable, but deem Senator Feingold insane or something for daring to think that perhaps Muslims might feel as unfairly maligned as they did when Bryan Kennedy spoke.
I can suggest two new words to look up on Dictionary.com for these Feingold critics: empathy and hypocrisy. Not necessarily in that order.