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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yes It Can

By Keith R. Schmitz

Every documentary series that Ken Burns offers up on PBS is poetry in motion pictures. His latest on National Parks is no exception.

Burns was on Morning Joe this morning and Mike Barnicle posed the question would it be possible for the national parks to come into being in today's political climate.

Think of it. People are now throwing hysterical screaming fits over health care reform, something that could benefit them directly. Imagine someone proposing taking land out of private ownership and using government money to make these expanses available to the public. FOX "News" would be bursting out of your TV screens. Not that the right wing isn't doing their lion's share to starve the national parks that we do have now to death.

It was brought up that government can't do anything right. Burns proceeded to reel off a list of benefits that we have enjoyed from our government starting with the Declaration of Independence all the way up to the federal highway building programs. But of course the townhall screamers would call Burns a socialist Nazi commie vegetarian fruitcake.

It is no doubt that the ideological blindness of the right would not perceive the beauty of the national parks, overlooking of course crunchy conservatives. No wonder we are not the man on the moon generation. Too busy worrying about how taxes would affect our IRA's has blasted away at the greatness of this country. Tax cuts have built nothing and if we were in charge the national parks would be laced with cul de sacs.

WPRI FAIL

by folkbum

Christian Schneider, writing at WPRI, fails to prove his thesis:
At the center of the debate is the idea of a “public option:” a government-run health program that liberals say would merely compete with private plans for customers. Conservatives counter that historically, when a generous government plan is instituted, private businesses tend to scale back or even drop their health plans, so their employees can save them money by going on the public plan.
On the one hand, this seems moderately logical--employers will shirk their traditional responsibilities to let someone else do it. On the other hand, it is completely disproved by the facts. Pesky things, those facts.

Schneider uses the experience of Wisconsin and BadgerCare to "prove" that this happens. Because BadgerCare enrollment exceeds what was expected when the program was passed (in arguably unusually strong economic times) in 1997, Schneider implies, that must mean that employers have shed coverage like crazy here in Wisconsin. And, he goes on, any further reform of health care, at the national level, for example, would lead to employers doing the same.

Pesky facts! It turns out that Wisconsin has not seen a massive shift from private to public insurance since the advent of BadgerCare! Scroll down to tables 7 and 8 of this report. Table 7 notes the percentage change in coverage provided by employers in all states between 2000 (when, coincidentally, BadgerCare took effect) to 2004 (which is the year Schneider notes BadgerCare saw peak enrollment). While Wisconsin declined at a slightly higher rate that nationwide (6.5% vs, 4.6%), Wisconsin still handily beat the national average, with, in fact, the 7th highest rate of employer-provided coverage in the country in 2004.

Is it possible that some of the people who lost coverage in that period did so because employers dumped them onto BadgerCare? We can't rule that out. However, it is pretty clear from Wisconsin's continued high rates of employer-provided health insurance, even in the face of BadgerCare, that Schneider's theory of mass shifts to the "public plan" never happened. Wisconsin employers still, overwhelmingly and at a much higher rate than the national average, offer insurance coverage to their workers.

Future of MPS forum Thursday

by folkbum

If you don't have Great Big Sea tickets, as I do, you can head to Riverside High School for a forum-slash-debate on the idea of Mayor Tom Barrett taking over the Milwaukee Public Schools. The event kicks off at 5:30 with a presser from those opposed; at 6:00 the Mayor will debate Milwaukee Board of School Directors member Larry Miller, whose district includes Riverside and who opposes the idea.

Also start making plans now to attend the 4th Street Forum on Thursday October 15--or at least to watch that week on TV--as your humble folkbum will be a panelist on a show entitled "MPS + X = Success?"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

RIP, William Saffire

by folkbum

I never liked his politics, and he did as much to demonize the Clintons--Hillary in particular--as anyone in the 1990s, but I respected him as a wordsmith and language maven.

I would like to retract part of my Oklahoma post from last week

by folkbum

I stand by a lot of what I wrote in that post last week: There is inherent value in empowering workers and in educating our children well, and that a better-educated workforce is more likely both to be organized and to be good at what it does.

However, I cited in that post the results of a survey done by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs suggesting that Okie high school students are impossibly dumb. The impossibility of that should have made me more skeptical--indeed, I quote my wife's incredulity--and I regret using the results, especially given some new information.

The survey was contracted out to an outfit called Strategic Vision LLC, a polling and public relations firm that, among other things, does a lot of polling in Wisconsin, too. However, it seems that Strategic Vision has been coming under fire lately for its lack of transparency (Mark Blumenthal at Pollster.com has a good rundown of the matter) and Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com has come close to suggesting that Strategic Vision just makes up its numbers out of thin air.

Yesterday, Silver also went after that Oklahoma survey I used in that post:
When I first saw these results a couple weeks ago, they really got my spidey sense tingling. Forget about the overall level of knowledge being low -- what I found strange was that there were no students, out of 1,000, who answered as many of eight out of the ten questions correctly. Isn't there some total nerd in Tulsa, some AP Honors student in Stillwater, who was able to answer at least eight of these ten very basic questions correctly? The distribution seems to be too compact.

[glossing over the part with math and graphs]

I'm not sure if there's any a priori way to know what the underlying distribution of responses "should" be. [. . .] It seems quite strongly possible, nevertheless, that the students polled for this survey don't exist anywhere in Oklahoma but instead on a hard drive somewhere in Atlanta. This is a valuable exercise undertaken by the OCPA. But they owe it to the hardworking students of Oklahoma to make sure that their contractor, Strategic Vision, didn't flunk its own citizenship test.
Strategic Vision is often described as a partisan (Republican) pollster and it does a lot of work for Republican candidates and conservative causes. I would be very concerned, if I were a conservative in Wisconsin relying on Strategic Vision for anything, about whether or not I was getting real results--or just something the pollster made up.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The new death panels: "Buy insurance or go to jail"

by folkbum

The brain-challenged on the right have taken this Politico story and gone haywire:
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) received a handwritten note Thursday from Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold confirming the penalty for failing to pay the up to $1,900 fee for not buying health insurance.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 penalty, Barthold wrote on JCT letterhead. He signed it "Sincerely, Thomas A. Barthold."
Some context: The Senate Finance Committee's bill (or the "Baucus bill" as some are calling it), imposes an individual mandate on people to buy insurance if they don't get it from work or a government program like Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, or, in Wisconsin, BadgerCare+. This fine is small for poor people, and capped at $1,500 for wealthy people ($3,800 for families) (and no, I don't know where $1,900 came from, because I'm looking at page 29 of the Baucus bill (pdf) and it clearly says $1,500), and assessed as a tax penalty via your return filed with the IRS.

In a hearing this week, Ensign demanded to know what would happen to people who don't pay their penalty. It seems obvious to me--if you don't pay your taxes, there's a law for that already, right? Apparently Ensign is too lazy or too stupid to look up what that penalty is. It took me about four seconds on google; it turns out there's a section of the tax code--and this is existing law, mind you, not some provision wedged into the pages of a new health care bill--titled "Willful failure to file return, supply information, or pay tax" that spells out the exact penalties Barthold explained in his note.

In other words, the Baucus bill says, buy health insurance or pay a fine on your taxes. (The House bill, HR 3200, has a similiar provision, but at a smaller amount.) The tax guy says, pay your taxes or go to jail.

For the wingnutoverse, they of the "death panels" and "private health insurance will be outlawed" and whatever other lies they hope the people are gullible enough to swallow, this has become "buy insurance or go to jail." Which is, of course, not true. However, I think we've seen pretty clearly that these people have even less regard for the truth than they do a sense of shame, so we should not be surprised that they're willing to spout the lie.

Now you may not believe me, since "buy insurance or go to jail" is so obviously, head-slappingly wrong that no one could be so stupid. But just check out our local wingnuts. Here's Peter "I'd put a bounty on Obama's melon" DiGaudio: "Refuse To Buy Health Insurance? Go To Jail." Peter has declined to publish my rebuttal comments.

Or Fred "watermelon seeds" Dooley: "And if you don't buy health insurance? Go to jail."

Kathy "apparently smart enough to get elected" Carpenter: "No healthcare, go to jail [. . .] You guys think I am goofing around here, but I am not."

The Asian Badger calls it "fascism," demonstrating that he clearly doesn't know what that word means.

Okay, you may be saying, those are the certifiably crazy local wingnuts. What about the sane ones? The normal ones? The ones who usually demonstrate reading comprehension and don't go off half-cocked? They needed more cocking on this one, too. Owen Robinson: "Obamacare will force people to buy health insurance or go to jail." Kevin Binversie: "[F]ailure to purchase health insurance under the proposed Senate bill will warrant those who are in non-compliance (as deemed by the IRS) with either a year in jail or a fine of $25,000."

(You can see the national crazies spouting the lies by following the links to the stupid from memeorandum. Even ABC News's "The Note" headlines the story "Buy Insurance or Go to Jail?" hoping, perhaps, that the question mark saves them. Ugh.)

Look, I'm not a fan of the individual mandate in the Baucus bill or in HR3200. It ends up being a corporate giveaway (hey, look, 40 thousand new paying customers!) to the insurance companies, as individual policies are always more expensive than group policies employers can buy. It's even worse in the Baucus bill because his bill lacks a public option, meaning individuals won't have the choice of a low-cost but high-quality plan like that offered for purchase from the government in HR3200.

But there are cost advantages to risk-pooling, and if a fine now helps pay for the cost to taxpayers of your emergency room visit later after you get hit by a bus, then, well, that's something. For my money, I'd much rather forgo the individual mandate entirely, unless we went with something like the Wyden plan which eliminates all employer-provided insurance entirely.

However, as I have been arguing all freaking year now, if you have legitimate concerns about the proposals to reform health care, talk about those. It doesn't serve any good purpose to just make stuff up--like "buy insurance or go to jail"--since we can't debate fantasy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Typical Mainstream Media

by bert
This very weekend there is a (an?) ukulele festival in Milwaukee. Like ACORN, this is being conveniently overlooked by the state-run media.

Is there any doubt any more that those playa-haters are in the tank for mandolins?

If They Can We Can

By Keith R. Schmitz

Jared L. Cohon with Carnegie Mellon University explains how Pittsburgh remade itself.

Hint -- a CTL F for "tax cuts" in the article comes up empty.

Friday of Folk

by folkbum

Monsters of Folk:



Monstresses of Folk (plus Buddy Miller):



Plus a preview of tonight's entertainment:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who's running the better crap-on-Milwaukee Guv campaign, Walker or Barrett?

by folkbum

I've been working on a post--in my head, mostly, but I've been working on it--which is sort of a "what would it take for me to support Mayor Tom Barrett's plan to take over the Milwaukee Public Schools?" post. I figured, you know, I oppose the idea, and see nothing but bad things ahead if it goes through, but I'm a reasonable man and I am seldom completely unpersuadable. So I have started imagining what else the Mayor could say or do or offer to make a takeover palatable.

At the top of the list, literally, number one on my list, is "Don't run for governor." If you're going to do this, I was planning to write, make a real, full, and absolute commitment to the voters of this city that you will see this transition through.

And yet with news today that US Rep Ron Kind is not running for governor, it seems much more likely that Tom Barrett is. In the first days after Jim Doyle announced he was not running, the word was that Kind and Barrett, former colleagues in the House, would not run against each other. Kinds non-entrance makes Barrett's entrance that much more certain.

And, as we all know, you can't get elected Governor of Wisconsin if you're from Milwaukee. However, much like last year's presidential election bucked the "you can't get elected while a sitting senator" rule by pitting two sitting senators against each other, the 2010 governor's race may well pit two Milwaukeeans against each other. And both--Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker--are hard at work on building their anti-Milwaukee cred, Barrett through this takeover nonsense and Walker through, well, being Walker.

This makes me much less likely to get around to finishing that "what would it take" post. The takeover talk suddenly seems a lot more like Barrett and Doyle (who us no great fan of Lt. Gov. Barb Lawton, the only announced Democrat so far) setting the stage for a state-wide campaign.

Dear Ms. Jordahl,

by folkbum

We've never met, although I do feel like I kind of know you, as you've been a part of the Cheddarsphere a long time now.

I am sorry to hear about your daughter's condition. I can't imagine what it must be like. My father's experience last year, with his chronic problems since, is probably only a fraction of the challenges you face as a parent of an epileptic child.

However, I hate to see that you've turned your situation into such an ill-conceived and factually challenged attack on the health insurance reforms being pushed by the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress.

You tell your story using the device of an open letter to Obama advisor David Axelrod, whose daughter also has epilepsy. You say to Axelrod,
I don’t believe increasing public awareness and funding for epilepsy research will improve the quality of life for either one of our daughters if the federal government takes over our health care system.

Perhaps it’s wrong for me to impose, after everything [your] family has endured, but imagine for a moment that you are back at the beginning of your quest to find a suitable treatment for your daughter’s seizures. Only this time decisions about which specialists to consult and which tests, medications, and procedures to pursue are no longer made by you in consultation with the doctor of your choice.
And there's more, with cold, impatient government bureaucrats, long waits for specialists, a so-sad-for-you kiss off, and other such dystopian imaginings.

Look, I have no doubt that over the last months, your mind has run the full gamut of nightmarish what-ifs--mine sure did with my father, and I have a hard time thinking anyone in a similar spot wouldn't react the same way. But there's a difference between the nightmares grounded in reality and the nightmares born of spiteful Republican talking points.

I mean, despite conservative hyperbole and bluster, there isn't a plan on, under, or anywhere near the table that lets "government take[] over our health care system." No bill in Congress, no administration talking point, would put one more doctor or nurse on the federal payroll, or deed over one new clinic or hospital to the government. There is government-run health care now--the V.A.--but no one is offering that as a model for universal reform. To attack Axelrod for a plan he hasn't proposed, his boss won't sign, and his party doesn't support in Congress is just an awful thing to do.

In addition, no one is talking about putting anyone new between any patients and their doctors. I imagine you've already dealt with the insurance company bureaucrats, the ones who, depending on your plan, may very well have dictated parts of your daughter's treatment outside of her doctor's best judgment. Don't worry: If the current proposals in Congress pass, those same insurance company bureaucrats will still be there to try to influence your daughter's care.

"How can we possibly improve treatment options," you ask Axelrod, "or make progress toward a cure if patients are no longer evaluated and monitored immediately following their seizures?" This is just one of many such questions you ask without offering even an iota of evidence to suggest that your daughter or his will not be tested and monitored, that a reformed health care system will write off epileptic patients as not worth the bother. This is ridiculous. Even the UK, with fully socialized medicine--that "government-run health care" that you so dread and that no one, again, no one is proposing for the US--beats us in per-capita epilepsy mortality. I'm sure that hasn't happened because the bureaucrats have written off their patients the way you assume will happen after some modest--and in my opinion, weak--insurance industry reforms.

Ms. Jordahl, I think you owe it to your daughter--and to the Daughter Axelrod and my father and the millions of other people in this country with difficult, chronic illnesses--to at least debate the issue honestly, rather than resorting to scare tactics and straw-man arguments. My father was working full-time, in a hospital!, with health and disability insurance, and my parents nearly had to declare bankruptcy to get out of the bills, some of which they're still fighting to get paid more than a year later. No one should have to do that, to go broke or declare bankruptcy because they get sick. And that's all Axelrod wants. It's all Obama wants. Why don't you want that, too?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oklahoma workers may be cheaper, but at least they're uneducated

by folkbum

It wasn't that long ago in real time--though ages ago in blog time--that Mercury Marine of Fond du Lac made waves (pun intended) by announcing its intention to screw hard-working Wisconsin folk and move hundreds of manufacturing jobs, followed by hundreds more white-collar jobs, to Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma, see, is a right-to-work state, a state that does not value workers and unions in the same way we traditionally have here in Wisconsin. The workers at the Stillwater facility were being paid so much less than the workers in Fond du Lac that it was almost worth the expense for Merc to bubble-wrap the plant and FedEx it southwest.

Now, I've got nothing specifically against Oklahoma. I have a lot of family there, including cousins educated by the Oklahoma public schools in one of the house-farmy suburbs of Oklahoma City who seem to have turned out all right and are making a living in the non-unionized trades down there. So it is with mild dismay--and not as much braggadocio as you might think--that I post this.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned a survey of 1000 random Oklahoma high-school students, asking them ten questions from the US Immigration Citizenship exam. These are not hard questions--the answers were things like "George Washington" and "the Atlantic Ocean." Yet only 2.8% of OK students could get six or seven of the ten questions right. None of the students got eight, nine, or all ten right.

My wife was incredulous: "There's not one history nerd in Oklahoma who could get them all?" Apparently not among the 1000 surveyed.

I could not find a project of similar scale for Wisconsin, but I did find this story noting that six UW-Marathon County students averaged 90% right in an embarrassingly unscientific media story.

But there is, in fact, a moderate correlation between union membership and education spending, if you count education spending as a rough surrogate for educational achievement--or at least the importance a state ascribes to educating its children. There are advantages to being in states that value workers, both before and after they hit the workforce. And I'm proud to be in one.

"If I had a million dollars, I would buy my grandmother a kidney."

by folkbum

I had a good conversation yesterday afternoon with Erin Richards, who's taken on the Milwaukee Public Schools beat at the Journal Sentinel since Alan Borsuk took the buyout.

She's got a series coming up starting with an article in Sunday's paper about the intersection of poverty and education, which I am looking forward to, as the topic is an interest of mine. (UPDATE: Richards has let me know that the series will run starting Sunday, 10/4, instead.)

One of the things we talked about really got me thinking: Should teachers organize, Richards wondered, around a goal like eradicating poverty or improving the neighborhood and the community? If teachers see, as we do, the effects of poverty in the classroom, what responsibility do we have to take leadership roles in the community and actively try to change the conditions outside the classroom? And if this is a necessary task for teachers, who organizes it? Who trains us? How do we maintain such activism without affecting the time we already have to put in before and after school to do what we do well?

I don't have an answer for that. On the one hand, it seems to me that one group should not be responsible for fighting the battle on every front; on the other, it makes sense to organize from among a group that has a vested interest in the results.

Which leads me to the quote at the top of the post. This was the first sentence--the first sentence!--of one of my students' pre-test essays from a couple of weeks ago. And it went on from there--her uncles who were sick, her mother who couldn't pay the bills, and so on. She never even got to the "and I would spend some of that million on nice stuff for me" part of the essay that you have to expect. Such pressure! How do you go through your life at 17 with that kind of weight and responsibility on your shoulders? And while her paper was by no means representative, it was also not the only million-dollar fantasy constructed around helping family overcome the effects of poverty and the bad economy and lack of health care.

It's overwhelming, really, to start thinking about the effort it would take within the community to change these conditions. Is it our place as teachers to do it? If no one else is stepping up, it may be.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two ACORN posts in one

It's About Time They Defunded Northrop-Grumman
by folkbum

Brilliant! Congress finally passes a law prohibiting the distribution of any funds to "any organization that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency."

That means, of course, the $53 million in the last 15 years that we sent to ACORN will be cut off (whew!), but so will the hundreds of billions we've sent to the fraudsters at Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman and Xe (née Blackwater) and Haliburton and ...

They Fired the Wrong Guy
by folkbum

Guy A: Doing his job when an Ashton Kutcher wannabe shows up with a hidden camera and eight miles of bull including a story about human trafficking. Guy A calls his cousin, a police detective, to report the conversation and seek help about the human smuggling--only to follow-up later that he'd been duped and there was no longer a need to investigate.

Guy B: Runs a website purporting to be "news," and had in fact worked for a long time as an editor on a popular news aggregator site and should know what he's doing. He gets the tape from said wannabe and does not follow up with Guy A, Guy A's boss, the police department in Guy A's city, or anything to find out if Guy A had attempted to stop the illegal activity he'd been told about. Guy B runs the tape without the due diligence, creating the impression that Guy A supported the law-breaking rather than reported it, which he actually did.

You can probably guess that hapless Guy A, who tried to Do The Right Thing, is the one who got fired. Guy B is making money hand over fist at the expense of honest guys like Guy A.

(Guy B also didn't run the footage from other cities, like Philadelphia, where the police were called in real time on the wannabe. No money to be made in that, either.)

Autumn? I Hardly Know Him!

by folkbum

Happy equinox, all. (I think only two people who read this blog will get the title.)

Who Speaks for Health Insurance Companies

By Keith R. Schmitz



There will be many contributors to this site who perhaps won't know why this is funny.

UPDATE -- The National Economic Council has come out with a report that lays out the numbers. From 1999 to 2009 premiums rose, depending upon state, from 88% to 148% (that would be Alaska). During the same period wages and inflation went up 38% and 28%. Bet middle class wages went up a lot less.

Could you imagine the screaming from the right if government spending went up that much?

Well, it didn't. According to the venerable Heritage Foundation, federal spending during that period went up 66%, with a huge role being played by the skyward increases in health insurance.

So why is it OK for that one sector in business be allowed to have an adverse affect on all the other businesses in this country? When are the right and right-leaning business groups going to give health insurance the same regard they give government?

A dollar spent is a dollar spent, no matter who gets their mitts on it.

How is this controversial?

by folkbum



How is it that there's not broad agreement across both parties for these basic reforms?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Criticism of Obama 'Not About Race,' Says New Poll of White People

By Keith R. Schmitz

h/t -- Andy Borowitz

Foreign Birth, Resemblance to Hitler Cited

People who criticize President Obama do so for reasons that have "nothing to do with his race," a new poll of white people indicates.

According to the poll, which was conducted by the University of Minnesota's Opinion Research Institute, those who take issue with the President do so because of his "questionable birth certificate," his "love of socialism," and his "Hitler-like health plan," but "not because of race."

A significant number of Mr. Obama's critics "strongly agree" with the statement, "I don't have any problems with Obama being black, but I do have a problem with him being a socialist from Kenya who is trying to kill my grandmother."

Professor Davis Logsdon, who conducted the survey, says that the poll is "full of good news" for Mr. Obama: "It indicates that race is no longer an issue in America, but a foreign-born president trying to institute a Nazi-slash-socialist euthanasia plan is."

Elsewhere, Fox News host Glenn Beck called for stricter limits on the nation's IQ.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

When the second sentence is a bald lie, why should we read further?

by folkbum

Here are the first two sentences of this morning's editorial--not op-ed, mind you, but the piece bearing the imprimatur of the editorial board of the largest daily newspaper in the state--in favor, again, of wresting control of the Milwaukee Public Schools from the people and giving it to the mayor:
Over the next couple of months, the state Legislature will decide whether to change the governance of Milwaukee Public Schools to mayoral control. This would allow the state's largest district to snag much needed Race to the Top funding.
As the title of this post suggests, that second sentence is flat-out false. First, the "Race to the Top" funds are to be distributed to states, not to individual school districts like MPS. Second, mayoral control of urban districts is not a precondition to getting the funds. Milwaukee's Congresswoman Gwenn Moore has tried to publicize this fact, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel seems not to care.

The fourth sentence of the editorial isn't much better; after describing the immediate effects of a mayoral takeover--Mayor Barrett's appointment of a new school board and superintendent--the editorial says, "In other words, this would dissolve a system that has allowed for far too long one of the widest achievement gaps in the country between blacks and whites."

No, no, no. It would not dissolve the system. The system is teachers, principals, students, parents. The system is curricula, textbooks, buildings, programs. The system is thousands of dedicated professionals fighting against the overwhelming influence of poverty, unemployment, poor health, unstable families, and more. All of that stays. The change the editorial board supports is ten people at the top. The ten most talented, charismatic, and effective leaders in the state--in the country!--would have a very hard time fixing the academic achievement gap while the mayor and other city leaders allow Milwaukee's nation-leading racial gaps in housing, employment, crime, income, and imprisonment rate to fester.

Sentence six is a bother, as well: "The sweeping changes needed to prepare graduates for a global economy are not attainable under the current structure," the editorial board somberly intones. In an ideal world, they might then go on to name some specific changes that they hope to see implemented by the mayor, or at least to detail some of the proposed changes scuttled by the "current structure" leaving our graduates unprepared. But they offer no specifics, suggest no changes, propose no new course of action.

Which is kind of funny, because that's exactly the same level of detail we've gotten from the mayor, Governor Doyle, and state Superintendent Tony Evers. Beyond "put the mayor in charge," there's a great deal of nothing. If the mayor were out there saying, "Put me in charge, and I'll do X, Y, and Z," then maybe we'd have something to talk about. But the mayor, et al., and his backers on the MJS editorial board presume that ten new people at the top is the only change worth planning for.

Today's editorial goes on to offer "rebuttals" to arguments against mayoral control, and some of those rebuttals themselves are iffy. For example, they do try to rebut the "no plan" argument, and they just sound ridiculous doing so. "In our book, getting a traditionally ineffectual board out of the way is a plan," they say, their italics. They trust the mayor to "hire the best educator possible" to run the system, and then let that guy come up with a plan.

Never mind, of course, that current MPS superintendent William Andrekopoulos was widely viewed as "the best educator" in Milwaukee for his work as principal at a city middle school, and he has largely been given free reign by the board over the last seven years. His immediate predecessor fit the same profile--successful principal, bold reform plan, free reign from the board. Clearly, "hire the best educator" is also not a plan.

The editorial board attempts to rebut the fix-the-city-first argument that I make so often. Watch the squirming:
Many of these social ills are directly tied to the district's longstanding lackluster performance. As long as more than 70% of the district's 10th-graders are not proficient in reading and fewer than 40% of MPS graduates enroll in post-secondary programs within a year of graduation, these social ills will persist. But, OK, say the reverse is more the case--that poverty causes the lack of proper educational outcomes. Forget the chicken-or-egg argument; wouldn't one person in charge best be able to handle these problems more holistically?
Got that? They say, "Low achievement causes (or at least perpetuates) poverty!" But if someone were to point out the documented causative relationship between high poverty and low student achievement, they say "Forget what causes what; just put one guy in charge!"

"Barrett," they go on, "whether he deserves it or not, gets the blame. Give him the responsibility." Blame for what? For the schools? He most certainly does not take the blame for the problems in our schools; no, that's usually teachers like me. For city crime? poverty? economics? I don't believe I have ever seen this editorial board lay one ounce of blame at the mayor's feet for those things. He's a freakin hero now, don't you know that? Blame. Hah!

The editorial board also claims that other mayor-controlled school districts are successful. The problem is that Chicago (pdf) has not improved, New York increased its per-student spending by 1/3 to spur results, Boston has needed bailouts from the city to make its budget balance. And they don't mention notable failures like Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Detroit.

Finally, the editorial board avoids the race issue by saying, "wouldn't it be racist to allow [non-white] children to continue under a system that has failed them so often for so long?" However, a bunch of white guys--and I am a white guy, so I got nothing against white guys in general--a bunch of white guys taking over a mostly minority district, with the help of the white (and over the objections of the non-white) guys and gals of the legislature is not going to be seen as benign, whatever the intent. The rifts are already starting to form, with current school board President Michael Bonds walking away from the mayor's MPS advisory group and legislators like Polly Williams, Pedro Colon, and Gwenn Moore staking out opposition.

Any significant change to the structure within MPS, let alone its governance, will have to come with the support and cooperation of the community and its leaders. This is not the way to secure that cooperation. The fabric of this community will be torn by a takeover and it will not be an easy thing to repair.

This certain division, by the way, is perhaps the strongest argument against the takeover, from where I sit. A takeover is not a prerequisite for or guarantee of federal funds; the history of such takeovers is at best mixed; and the conditions in Milwaukee that produce low academic achievement are generally outside of schools' control--these suggest no great benefit to the takeover. And yet we know the significant negative effect, the deepening of racial divides in this already-segregated community.

It is not worth it. And when the idea's supporters are reduced to outright lies when pushing the idea, well, that's a bad sign, too.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

And all over Russia ...

by folkbum

... the Russian wingnut bloggers are writing about how Putin is showing weakness to Obama, that Putin has "caved" and "abandoned" Russia's allies, and how Russia may as well just surrender to her enemies now.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Indiana Voter ID Unconstitutional

by capper

Well, well, isn't this interesting:

An Indiana law requiring voters to show identification, declared constitutional by the United States Supreme Court just last year, was struck down Thursday by a state appellate court.

The state court said the law violated the Indiana Constitution by not treating all voters equally.

[...]

Indiana’s Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause is similar to the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. But in the ruling Thursday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals found that the voter ID law violated the state’s equal protection guarantee because it did not require mail-in voters and residents of some nursing homes to produce state-approved identification.

Under Indiana law, the court said, it might be reasonable to regulate absentee balloting more stringently than in-person balloting. But the voter ID law does the opposite, the judges said, by imposing “a less stringent requirement for absentee voters than for those voting in person.”
Of course, it always did seem that the pro-voter ID people were never interested in equality. That's why they wanted it in the first place.

BTW: I won't be around to argue the point, but I did want to give Jay and Keith something to do.

Gone Now Baby Bye Bern

by folkbum

In the comments to last week's Friday music post, Bert reminded me how much I like Dan Bern.



I liked Dan Bern even before I knew he wrote most of the songs for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Like this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Music vs. Mania

By 3rd Way

On Saturday you could attend the corporate funded rally at Veteran’s Park with 1-2 million of your neighbors and listen to a discredited astrophysicist and a racist.

Or...

You could come down to my hood for the annual Global Union festival and see a 30 piece marching-circus-punk-gypsy band who sound musically tight, and use movement to accentuate their joyous effect while parading on or off stage with 2 cheerleaders working the crowd and playing tunes ranging from traditional-sounding oompah or waltz music with Eastern European gypsy melodies to oddball arrangements of Rock and R&B songs (for ex. Stevie Wonder).



What ever you do please leave your sabers at home.

In Name Only

by folkbum

Russ Feingold is not as, um, direct as I was:
On Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’ Health Care Proposal: My goals for health care reform include a strong public option, long-term care reform and reform of the Medicare reimbursement system that has disadvantaged Wisconsin for far too long. I am disappointed that the Finance Committee bill, as written, comes up short on all three fronts. I hope my colleagues on the Finance Committee will change the bill to ensure it is not just health care reform in name only.

Health Care Reform Has an Anthem

By Keith R. Schmitz



Dick I'll give a 92. It has a beat and you can dance to it.

Michelle Malkin to Celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day in Milwaukee

by folkbum

Avast! I'm sure she'll see two million scurvy dogs along the lakefront.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Impatience

by folkbum

When I clicked the "unsubscribe" link in the emails I get from Cascio Interstate Music the second time, and even the third time, I was willing to be patient and give their automated system time to filter me out.

After many more weeks of emails and unsub requests, I followed the directions ("If you are having problems with the automatic unsubscribe function, please email a request to ...") and asked politely to be removed. This was followed by an apologetic email from someone who said their unsubscribe function was never working right and that I was now manually removed from the list.

You see where this is going, right? A couple of days later, ding! and another Cascio Interstate Music email appears in my box. This was, you know, months ago.

I've tried the unsubscribe link. I've tried emailing the address given. I've tried using my email client's "bounce" feature.

I am now reduced to public shaming. I hate doing this. But here it is:


You are a Bad Company, Cascio! Very, very Bad!

If You Can't Make It Just Fake It

By Keith R. Schmitz

God knows certain members of the right wing are honest as the day is lying. So it is hardly shocking that once again the right is resorting to faking by running a fraud foto of their rally on Saturday.


Politifact checked it out with the DC Fire and Emergency Department, confirmed the faking and now the pix has evaporated from right wing sites.

From many crowd counters 60,000 to 70,000 is about right. That's Camp Randal with a few no-shows. Despite all the non-stop right wing whining about the media, massive anti-war rallies barely made the press, and this side show is splashed all over.

Can these guys ever play straight?

Max Baucus is dumb

by folkbum

I don't feel like mincing words, so I'm just going to say it: Max Baucus is dumb. Just really, really dumb. Why?
Even if Baucus can't get Republican support, the plan already reflects some major GOP priorities. For example, Baucus opted not to include a government insurance plan to compete with private carriers. He's including nonprofit, member-owned cooperatives instead, something several liberals on his committee dislike. [. . .] The three Republicans involved in the talks - Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Olympia Snowe of Maine - are under intense pressure from leaders of their own party, some of whom have publicly dismissed Baucus' framework as a Democrat's plan. Baucus may not be able to get any of them to agree.
Baucus spends months writing a Bad Bill--including scrapping provisions he himself really wanted just a year ago--in order to win Republican support. This support will never happen.

Why? Waterloo. This is their 15-year strategy, based on Bill Kristol's insight in 1993 that is Democrats pass health care reform, people will like Democrats more, and reward them for having finally Done Something about the great domestic policy issue of our generation. Republicans, House and Senate, are not going to support a Democratic health care bill, period. Max Baucus could have printed up Paul Ryan's health care reform bill, whited out Ryan's name and replaced it with his own, and every Republican on his committee would vote against it anyway.

This is what they do. They are Lucy with the football.

Kevin Drum is on about a similar phenomenon here: Barack Obama's judicial appointments--appointments of Republicans with support from the Republican Senators in their home states!--are stalled in the Senate just because.

I heard a commentator on the radio last week--I think it was WPR--offer the notion that trying to pass a bill through the Senate with anything less than 60 votes, the magic number to cut off a filibuster, was just not How It's Done. It would be scandalous. But this, too is false: For two centuries, the Senate happily passed bills on a majority vote almost all of the time. It is only in the last two Congresses, with the current Republican minority, that the filibuster has become the default--so much so that, as Drum notes in the link above, a lot of Obama's nominees may never get a vote in the Senate at all.

And yet, Baucus is selling out solid health care reforms to please these people, in search of the 60th vote that never used to be necessary from a party whose leadership is going to do everything they can screw Obama and stop all reform efforts.

If this bill is going to go down because of Republicans, at least make it a bill Democrats can be proud to say they sponsored, not some watered-down giveaway to insurance companies designed to appease unappeasable people.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The cheat sheet for those who didn't read the bill

by folkbum

Just click the buttons. Learn something.




No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

By Keith R. Schmitz

A tale from the "spontaneous" We Hate Obama Rally in DC
Lois Calzone from Maryland carried a poster showing Obama painted as Batman character "the Joker" with the captions "Un-American" and "cap and traitor."

"He is a traitor. He's either a Marxist or a Communist and we're not. He's totally un-American," Calzone told AFP.

"I think Saudi Arabia is behind him. Where did he get all that money to fund his campaign?" she said.

Her daughter, who refused to give her name, said: "The reason he hasn't picked a church in DC is because he's not Christian. He's Muslim.

"We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but this is too much."

Some in the crowd were there to try and engage those skeptical of the Obama administration.

Georgetown University law student Lindsay Windsor asked demonstrators to explain their opinions of the president.

"A lot of the slogans are very inflammatory and I want to understand what they actually mean," said Windsor, 22, who was wearing an Obama-Biden T-shirt, as she walked over to Calzone and her friends.

"I don't want to try to convince you that I'm right. I want to try to understand you. If we are going to fix our country's problems, we need to have a conversation together," Windsor said to the group of women.

"Obama is a sleeper cell... Go have a conversation with someone else," Calzone's daughter told her.
So, you too can be a sleeper cell.

Cash for Clunkers a model of efficiency

by folkbum

As unlikely as it sounds, I'm linking to Hot Air (via, also unlikely, Dad29). In this post, Ed Morrissey first blows a gasket, but then reins most of it back in when his source turns out to have made a mistake. The blown gasket was over the idea that the much-maligned Cash For Clunkers program was spending twice as much on administrative costs than on the rebates to dealers--a fact which proves to be as untrue as it is absurd.

Here's Cap'n Ed's update noting the problem, and adding some commentary:
Rob Port has a corrected post, using data from Autoblog, which turns out to be more reliable than the AP:
Whoops, I read the article below a little too fast. The $1.22 billion number is the amount of rebates paid back so far. The remaining isn’t entirely administrative costs but also the amount of rebates yet unpaid. According to this article, though, the administrative costs to date have been $144 per rebate. That’s a lot of money for a simple car rebate, and with 690,000 rebates to process we’re talking over $100 million to process rebates for a program that lasted weeks. Still not every efficient.
Assuming that the average rebate comes out to $3500 (the program used a sliding scale), that comes to about a 4% overhead. That might not be bad for a health insurer, but for a rebate program? That seems like a lot of processing cost on the government end (for a worker earning $60K/year with benefits, about 5 hours for each claim), and it doesn’t count the cost of the dealer in filing and tracking the claims, either. Still, the AP article made it sound much, much worse.
That last paragraph is astounding to me. Why? Because conservatives have been using Cash for Clunkers as a truncheon with which to club the notion that a much grander-scale program, such as health care reform, could be done efficiently by the government, if they can't handle something as modest as this clunkers thing.

I've linked before to this story, in which Rick Newman writes that doctors and patients would almost certainly kill to have the kind of response from private-sector insurance companies that we saw with Cash for Clunkers. Now Morrissey adds that, by his math--and remember, he opposes the program!--the Cash for Clunkers program's bureaucracy cost was running at about 4%. And he has the gall to add, "That might not be bad for a health insurer."

Might not be bad! Are you kidding me? There is no insurance company in the country that has an overhead of 4%. Not one! The highest estimates are that Medicare, which is by far the most efficient payer in the industry, has an overhead of about 5%. You'll note reading there that the private insurance industry has much higher costs--even if you discount, as that economist suggests you should, profits and taxes.

In other words, if the federal government can run health care, and run it at the rate of just 4% of overhead, there would be billions and billions less in health care spending every year. Cash for Clunkers should be an inspiration to the private sector, not a cautionary tale about government programs.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

By Comparison

by folkbum

Illy-T points out that the Badgers game yesterday drew a bigger crowd than the big 9/12 protest march on Washington, DC, yesterday. The march had maybe 75,000 people, which is a respectable number. However, it was also promoted for six months straight by FOX News and the various astroturf organizations (it was the guy from FreedomWorks, Dick Armey's outfit, who lied and said ABC news pegged attendance at over a million).

But, for comparison:
  • Nightly viewers of Glenn Beck's TV program: 3.3 million. (Remember, the 9/12 project is Beck's baby!)
  • International A.N.S.W.E.R.'s anti-war march on Washington, 2005: 150,000
  • Rally for immigration reform in Los Angeles, 2006: 500,000
  • The March for Women's Lives abortion rights rally, in Washington: 800,000
  • Fighting Bob Fest this weekend--just a state-wide event, without any national news anchors shilling for it or corporate-sponsored PACs producing it: 8000

More on mayoral control of MPS

by folkbum

So I'm sitting in the mandatory professional-development-on-your-prep-hour session last week at school, where we're being presented with this year's iteration of the "school improvement plan."

"It's important that you know about this plan, that you know the data," our trainer said, "because big changes are happening. The mayor just took financial control of our district away from the superintendent!" Cue the facepalm.

Reality, of course, is that two weeks back the Milwaukee Board of School Directors created a new Office of Accountability, sort of shifting a layer of the bureaucracy up a little bit in the org chart so that many of the financial services, including the auditors, report directly to the Board, instead of through the superintendent. The mayor, you'll note, does not appear in the story; this change is a long-term goal of takeover opponent and Board President Michael Bonds, who would have done it mayoral threat or not.

Now, I don't want to generalize to the whole district or the whole city based on one moment of (albeit significant) misunderstanding that I encountered from a central office employee--who, I will say, seemed grateful to be corrected on the matter. But I do not doubt that the stepped-up talk of mayoral takeovers is leading to far too many conversations like that one. And it is not helpful.

It's also not helpful, as Lisa Kaiser points out, that the leading news organization--whose editorial board is firmly in the takeover camp--is not offering an accurate picture of the, you know, news. Kaiser notes that the Journal Sentinel's story on Rep. Gwenn Moore's rally against the takeover leaves out salient facts, like how mayoral control is not one of the criteria for federal "Race to the Top" funds that the idea was hatched to pursue.

(Kaiser also wonders why the JS gives more space in that story to suburban Republican Leah Vukmir, rather than to the Democrats representing Milwaukee--and holding the legislative majorities in Madison--who were at Moore's rally. Um, duh--Vukmir's running for State Senate! Watch the endorsement page next October.)

The notion that this controversy is all Dem-on-Dem action (it's not; conservative business forces in the city and state are driving a lot of it) is the theme of Alan Borsuk's story this week. Wresting control of MPS away from an elected board is not a new idea, of course, or an exclusively Democratic one; former Governor Tommy! Thompson was all about taking over MPS for a few years back in the last century. And Dem-on-Dem action regarding reform in Milwaukee is not new, either; it was State Rep. Annette Polly Williams, Democrat of Milwaukee, who made the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program happen, along with other Good Democrats like Howard Fuller--though the voucher program has since been perverted and owned (literally, bought and paid for) by conservative interests.

But intra-party fights are always good for ratings, or something, and Borsuk delivers. He also tracks down a group called Democrats for Education Reform that is generally promoting mayoral takeovers. He notes, for example, that DFER is trying to organize in Milwaukee, holding a luncheon last week. I hate this: When your goal is to talk education reform and you hold a lunch meeting, guess who's not going to be on board? Teachers. Principals. Most parents. Students. Seriously: If you want to make me automatically oppose what you're asking me to support about education reform, invite me to a lunch meeting I can't attend because I'm busy, you know, educating children at the time.

Moreover, looking at DFER's "What We Stand For" page, it seems that of all the bullet points listed, the only thing we're not already doing in Milwaukee is mayoral control. I have said this over and over--if there's something worth trying, MPS has already tried it. Go ahead, name something--we're doing it, or have done it. Do you really think this one more thing will be the magic bullet? (Hint: It won't.)

DFER seems to be very much in favor of the New York model, noting that since Mayor Bloomberg's takeover (Bloomberg, although not technically at the time, was a Democrat, too [CORRECTED]), New York City Schools have seen some improvement. But New Yorker and education curmudgeon Diane Ravitch offers a hint as to why: "Under N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg," she writes, "spending on education has increased from $12.5 billion annually to $21 billion, or nearly $20,000 per child." That's an increase of two-thirds; it would be the equivalent of taking MPS's budget and adding $800 million, or about $10,000 per student, annually. If the state or the city or feds were willing to offer us, long-term (not one-time stimulus or "Race-to-the-Top" infusions) an extra $10k per child, I guarantee you the district would improve no matter who was in charge--the Board, the mayor, an inanimate carbon rod--as long as we could put that money toward things we know work. Things like intensive home interventions, smaller class sizes, one-to-one tutoring, and so on.

To date, of course, Mayor Tom Barrett has offered no such carrot. Or any plan at all, for that matter. The lack of a plan is just one problem with the takeover described by Charlie Dee and Michael Rosen here--it's a long piece, but well worth the read.

Finally, Patrick McIlheran--yes, again--writes in today's opinion section that a mayoral takeover is no big deal, because even though the people who will be running the schools day-to-day will be appointees, rather than directly elected the way the Board is now, people still vote for the mayor. That's pretty pedestrian, but he does make enough other stunning statements to make it worth looking at.

For example, this: "The Milwaukee teachers union, which now overwhelms any other organized interest in School Board races with its money and manpower, will immediately become the giant in mayoral elections." There are nine members on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. Care to guess how many of those nine were supported by the union in their last contested election, with our "overwhelming" money and manpower? Two--Peter Blewett and Terry Falk. All hail the overwhelming power of the union!

And note his use of the word "now": A few years ago, when national pro-privatization groups targeted Milwaukee, including endorsements on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and big dumps of cash from the Joyces and Waltons, he couldn't have said that. In recent years, those forces have moved on to other things, leaving only the locals--like us teachers--worried about the elections.

Also: "Concentrating power hardly seems a solution. A more promising idea, as long as we're speculating, is breaking up the district into manageable pieces, each large enough to feed one high school, like most Wisconsin school districts. Whether this will work is unclear, but it may bring the decision-making closer to families that schools serve."

I'm guessing that a lot of us--I mean, it's true for myself--grew up in places where there was one high school, one or two junior highs, and a smattering of elementary schools in one district. That's the non-urban model of education all across the country. But MPS currently has about 26,000 high school students, and the large high schools serve on average about 1500 students. (Hamilton, the district's largest, serves 2200.) That would be 15 or 17 "districts" in McIlheran's plan, at current capacities. If we wanted something closer to eight districts with one high school in each--blowhard Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan floated that one last year--it would take a massive (read, expensive) effort to get high schools up to where they could handle 3000 students again, though some did in their distant pasts.

In either case, what will happen is that Milwaukee would go from the one worst district in the state to the worst six or seven or 13 districts in the state: "Small" is no more a plan to change what happens inside the classroom (and outside it, to better prepare students for inside) than "mayoral control" is. Same students, same parents, same teachers, same principals, same pressures of poverty and unemployment and poor health and violent crime and addiction and unstable families and .... well, you get the idea.

The chorus, as everyone knows by now, is fix Milwaukee first.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hey Big Spenders

Keith R. Schmitz

This week and since spring we have been entertained by the spectacular sight of angry white people taking the time to assemble in parks, capitol squares and town halls to rail, scream and threaten because of oh, a number of reasons. One of these that gets mentioned a lot is "all that government spending."

That spending, of course, by our current President.

We say, "ahem, where were you all when money, YOUR money, was being blown on Iraq, tax cuts for millionaires and drug 'reform' for seniors"...to the deaf.

Turns out that we were right. According to these calculations, 82% of our federal debt was racked up by GOP Presidents.

No one protests the right of people to protest, yell, scream, make derisive photo shops of their President, just so long as they know what the hell they are talking about.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What If?

By Keith R. Schmitz

Let's toss this cow into the piranha pool.

When we were attacked eight years ago, we all pulled behind the President. Practically all of us -- 90% of the country.

That certainly included Democrats who swallowed their anger over their suspicions that the election was stolen. They readily recognized the country was in assaulted and did what every good American should do -- pull behind the President out of respect for the office regardless of who is in it.

What do you think will happen if it happens again? What do you think Charlie Sykes, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Joe Wilson, Newt Gingrich and all the rest will tell their minions to do if we are visited by another black day?

Fan of Buying Local?


By Keith R. Schmitz

A bunch of us have been bringing on people for membership of the Open Book bookstore cooperative in Shorewood and yesterday we got a bit of good news.

Roundy's has provided us the opportunity to occupy the former Harry W. Schwartz location at 4093 N. Oakland Ave. We had some amazing cooperation from the real estate staff with Roundy's and this enables us to have time to find a permanent location in Shorewood.

Still living among us are people who like to go to a store to browse, buy books, hang out and chill. We are not yet taking our food in a pill.

But, we are halfway to the $100,000 we need to open the store in November, and by next week Tuesday we have to start buying books and building bookshelves. We need to go into next week with a substantial boost in membership totals. Join the 300 who have signed up already.

If the idea of a community owned bookstore, complete with a coffee shop featuring locally roasted coffee, sounds like a good idea to you, go to www.openbookcoop.com.

9/11 Music

by folkbum

On the Saturday after 9/11/01, the country was still in a little bit of, I don't know, a fog. Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer were in town that night, and, given Dave Carter's generally atavistic spirituality as a songwriter, that show was one of the singular most moving concerts I've been to. They opened with this track:



Dave Carter died of a heart attack less than a year later, robbing the world of, probably, decades of fantastic songwriting.

Here's one specifically about the events of that week, from a New Yorker and another of my favorite songwriters:



And a hopeful one, because we need it. I've linked this one before, by Mark Erelli, but it's totally worth the repeat:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Heckle: Give me more, please

by folkbum

There are a number of things I like about the UK: Earl Grey tea, Shakespeare, the Beatles, Harry Potter, Oscar Wilde's one-liners, Waking Ned Devine, the word fardel, the original BBC "The Office," and so on (notably, not the National Health Service, thankyouverymuch).

And, in addition to those, there's Parliament. Not so much that I like the system, especially versus Congress, which as we all know is already the single worst governing body in history, save for all others ever conceived. Rather, I like the fact that on a regular basis, the Prime Minister stands up at the front of the Parliament there and has to defend himself and his government's policies.

Yes, the questioners are often boorish and offensive, and yes the whole thing is so base up against the "My Esteemed Colleaguing" and "I Cede The Balance Of My Timing" and such that makes "Booknotes" seem so very "Girls Gone Wild" compared to the rest of CSPAN's programming. But you know what? It works for me on a number of levels.

For one, an idiot like Joe Wilson (not to be confused with Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was much more circumspect in calling the president, then WBush, a liar, and did it in print, and turned out to be correct--all things you can't say about the volatile South Carolinian who shares the name) would have a time and place for his jackassery, and could let it out in a more cathartic and appropriate manner than in the middle of a joint session's rarified air. For two, since the filter would be gone, we'd get to see a lot more of the jackassery, revealing heretofore closeted jackasses whose exposure would surely be good for the nation.

For three, it would work to sharpen the arguments used by the president (or an appropriate representative; to capitalize on the current controversy, perhaps a new "czar" of some flavor) to defend his policies. When the jackassery happens--a "You lie!" shouted from the far reaches of the minority's back bench--the president or his czar can call that out: "Prove it, meathead" or some such gauntlet. "Pick up that bill and show me the death panels, and try not to look like too big an idiot."

I teach high school, you know, and some days my classes are like that. Not that I get accused of lying, often, but these kids come with their own agendas and they will press and press until I can convince them to listen quietly long enough that they finally get that, no, really, John Donne is totally talking about sex in that poem. (Note: Add John Donne to the list above.) It took me a couple of years to get the hang of managing that. Imagine Barack Obama, gloves off, in 2011 after two years of practice, going manno-ah-manno against some Republican goon on, say, student loan reform (not sexy, but really needed, look it up). Obama's already a pretty sharp debater (just ask Secretary Clinton), and if he got to do it every day up against the leading lights (sliding scale, please) of the Republican Party, he would almost certainly be able to wither nonsense objections faster than those flowers that only bloom for a few hours and then die, and that's pretty fast.

For four (fore!), stealing Parliament's thang would also, I think, do wonders to expose the minority leadership, i.e., his Orangeship, John Boehner (R-not very far from where I grew up), if they can't lead straight. Boehner in recent days has both shown a rightblogger-level of ignorance about the health care bills up in his chamber and "dodged" an offer for him to explain the Republican alternative to those bills. Parliament's where party leaders are made or broken, and bumbling incompetence at Boehner's current level would have long ago caused rebellion in the ranks, and maybe the good people of suburban Hamilton County, OH, would have had the sense to pasture him by now.

And for five, finally, this would certainly make the general public take up an interest in government again, at least until the novelty wore off. I'm too lazy to google now (and, frankly, still disturbed by the fact that the google box and buttons are somehow bigger today--egad) to check, but I'm sure that the number of people who can name the leaders of Congress is probably somewhere south of Congress's actual approval ratings, and that says a lot. Not even the leaders, but, you know, people's own representatives, I bet they don't know. Except, now, I bet everyone in South Carolina knows who Joe Wilson is--infamy, to paraphrase Lucky Day, being more than fame.

Is the dogfighting of Parliament perhaps diametrically opposed to the august nature the wig-wielding Founders envisioned for the Congreff of the United Statef? Almost certainly. But I'll be damned if Madison and Morris and Jefferson and the rest of the band wouldn't look at the dismal state of the GOP's behavior today and be able to tell the difference, anyway.

Covering Undocumented Workers -- How Does This Not Make Sense?

By Keith R. Schmitz

From Joe Klein at Time about The President's speech from last night:
On this whole question of whether illegal immigrants will be included in the plan, which caused the vile Congressman from South Carolina to shout "You lie" when the President said they wouldn't be covered. Why shouldn't they be? After all, when an illegal immigrant cuts his hand while chopping cabbage and goes to the emergency room, the rest of us pay for it. Isn't the point to expand the risk pool as much as possible, to lure the insurance companies into concessions and lower prices?

I kn0w it 's not going to happen. Congress will never vote to subsidize the health care of those who arrived here illegally. But, given the fact that we're already subsidizing them through the back door, it does make sense, doesn't it?
I've wondered about that myself.

In the other democracies such as the UK and France I've heard stories about American visitors needing medical care and getting it for practically next to nothing. Now if these countries who are delivering health care at around 2/3rds our cost and doing it better can provide that kind of coverage, how does this argument make us look?

This may be another case where we chop off our noses to spite our collective faces. I may be proven wrong very shortly, but none of us has the stomach or lack of character to not have an undocumented treated if they run into a medical problem.

But of course this so-called issue is being used by the opposition to distract people and get them all worked up so they don't think about the big picture.

As was pointed out last night, we all pay when someone has to check into an emergency room and does not have the means to pay for treatment. Worse, if the pending flu becomes an epidemic, not providing treatment to everyone will come at a hell of a cost.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Al Franken got fat

by folkbum



That was my second thought. My first thought was, how can someone who hates America so much draw such a pretty picture of it.

My third thought was, this is so much cooler than what Herb Kohl does at our fair.

Paul Ryan: Still peddling scare-tactic lies about health care

by folkbum

I go back, time and time again, to what I have said before: There is no downside for the Republican minority and the conservative press to lying to the American people. It doesn't really matter how many times you point out the lies, or how many times you patiently explain the specifics of their wrongedness, they just keep doing it. Betsy McCaughey keeps getting on TV to offer some new and bizarre misreading of legislation; the rightbloggers keep reposting the same mistaken lists that show up in their inboxes; and Paul Ryan keeps getting editorial space in local newspapers to offer the same tired lies about the health care bill he opposes. (Reminder: The last major Paul Ryan post was here.)

Now, I have no beef with someone who legitimately disagrees about whether the reforms offered in the ubiquitous HR3200 and other Democratic proposals are the way to go. A person can say, reasonably, that they oppose offering subsidies to people who can't afford insurance or allowing the government to compete with private insurance companies through a public insurance plan option. (Those two things, among the most key reforms in the bill, both poll very well, even among Republicans--which should make Ryan at least think about whether he's going to be on the right side of history here.) I can make, I believe, a persuasive case for those and for other parts of the bill without pulling stuff out of thin air; I'd like to think principled opponents could do the same.

But can Paul Ryan? No. Here he is:
Wisconsinites have expressed a number of serious concerns with H.R. 3200, the Majority’s health care overhaul: millions of Americans would lose their current coverage and be dumped on a new government-run plan; Washington bureaucrats would seize unprecedented decision-making power over their health; and a struggling economy would be hit with painful new taxes and a debt burden that we simply cannot afford.
Okay, maybe he's hedging a little bit by saying that these are things "Wisconsinites" fear--although as we saw previously, Ryan seems not to worry about correcting his audience's misperceptions about the bill when expressed at town halls, so it is disappointing either way that Ryan offers up such pap in print.

Let's take them in order, though any regular reader of mine should already know the true answers to these questions and can probably write the rest of the post without me here. But for the newbies, and those in Ryan's Congressional office stopping by (hi, guys!), let's spell it out.

Millions of Americans would lose their current coverage and be dumped on a new government-run plan: There are so many bad assumptions here, I hardly know where to start. I'll make a list:
  1. Every year, without reform, millions of Americans already lose their current coverage; anyone losing a job (something that happens more and more lately) or changing jobs; anyone with employers priced out of the insurance market or forced to choose a new, cheaper plan instead of pay 10% or 20% rate increases; anyone buying insurance individually who faces recision or can't get coverage because of pre-existing conditions. HR3200 actually helps all of those people find less expensive, more stable coverage.
  2. Ryan assumes companies that now pay no penalty for dropping coverage but don't will suddenly rush to do it when there's a penalty applied.
  3. Ryan discounts the additional incentives in the bill for small businesses, in particular, to offer coverage.
  4. Those without employer-based coverage are not required to choose a "government-run plan," but can instead choose any plan from the Health Insurance Exchange, which comprises mostly private offerings.
  5. The public option is not really so scary. The plan, though government-run, is no different from any other insurance plan, with legally enforceable contracts, minimum standards of coverage (for all levels of the plan, from basic to premium-plus), and, if Medicare is any guide, access to just about any doctor and coverage for nearly any procedure you could want (read the fine print, of course). But it will not, by law as spelled out in HR3200, offer something "less" than private plans.
Is that enough? Is it clear now how ridiculous it is to make the kind of assumptions he makes and demonize a plan that will be no different from a private plan--which is still available for purchase instead?

Washington bureaucrats would seize unprecedented decision-making power over their [I don't know whose--Wisconsinites? people on the public option insurance plan? the bureaucrats?] health: Again, most of us already have a bureaucrat making decisions about our health. For most of America, if HR3200 passes, that bureaucrat will still be the same private-sector pencil-pusher as always. However, again with Medicare being a guide, government bureaucrats are far less difficult to deal with than private ones: Medicare has fewer rejected claims, covers more claims more quickly, and requires far less paperwork and legwork than private plans. Seniors know this; that's why there are the not-at-all-apocryphal-but-quite-real protest signs out there, "Keep your government out of my Medicare." (Again, Paul Ryan needs to figure out if he's on the right side of history here.) Doctors know this, which is why nearly all accept Medicare patients. And the nice thing about HR3200 is its transparency: You know exactly who is setting the policy, exactly what the policy is, and whom to lobby to get that changed, if you want (Congress has confirmatory power over most of the people involved in developing and implementing coverage policy). When the private sector bureaucrats hike your rates and deny your claim, how transparent is the process?

A struggling economy would be hit with painful new taxes and a debt burden that we simply cannot afford: I will give Ryan the fact that HR3200 includes what are euphemistically called "funding mechanisms" but which are, in practice, taxes. HR3200's "funding mechanism" is a surtax on the top 1/2 of 1% of earners or so. This surtax is what funds a significant amount of the subsidy offered in the bill to those who cannot afford to buy insurance. (Some of that is also offset by eliminating waste and inefficiency in Medicare, and idea Democrats stole from the GOP platform; too bad they don't stand by it now.) But the bill actually scores almost completely deficit-neutral. It will add less than $7 billion in debt annually for the next ten years--and that only because scheduled increases in Medicare reimbursements are allowed to stand (in other words, no, there's no plan to cut doctors' pay under Medicare).

And the public option itself actually saves money. I found myself arguing this over the weekend at a couple of the righty blogs where people apparently have internalized a lot of the misinformation about the bill. The public option costs nothing to the taxpayer; the HR3200 is very clear in explaining (page 119, if you don't believe me) that this public insurance plan must be fully funded only by member premiums. To repeat: No Tax Dollars Pay For The Public Option.

The spending comes mostly, as noted above, in the form of help to those who cannot afford to buy their own insurance. This exists completely outside the public option insurance plan; people receiving the subsidy are free to choose any plan from the Exchange, just like us rich folk. And that's where the savings come in: The Congressional Budget Office, for example, suggests that the public option may be up to 10% cheaper to subscribe to than a private plan; the UnitedHealth-owned Lewin Group suggests it could be more than that. (This is the mechanism by which private plans will be forced to be more efficient, rather than continuing to pass paperwork costs on to their members.) The more robust the public option--i.e., the more people who choose it over a private plan--the more the likely savings among those receiving the subsidy and, thus, less cost to taxpayers.

There's one more thing Ryan does, later in his op-ed, that deserves notice. He writes, "Most of us simply can’t stomach handing over our [. . .] health care sector[] to the federal government." HR3200 does nothing of the sort. It does not nationalize, socialize, single-payerize, or annex in any way the health care sector. HR3200 does not put one single doctor or nurse or pharmacist in the employ of the federal government. It does not take over one single hospital, clinic, doctor's office, or Walgreens. It does not revoke the charters of any insurance companies, drug makers, or medical equipment manufacturers. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 where we are now and 10 someplace like the UK, where the government really does control the health care sector, passing HR3200 would not move us at all from 1. To suggest, as Ryan does here, that HR3200 gives the government control of health care is blatantly untrue. It's a lie. There's no other way to put it--and I'm sure Paul Ryan knows this and doesn't seem to care.

Look, HR3200 is not the bill I would have written were I in Congress. But it is, on the whole, not that bad. We could do worse. And yet Paul Ryan and his media enablers are making it out to be something it is not, a monster of a bill that will eat us whole or at least tell your grandma how and when to die. It isn't. Ryan knows, though, what I've said before: The only way to beat this bill is to lie about it. And he does.

Monday, September 07, 2009

On this Labor Day weekend, Mercury Marine situation shows import of unions

by folkbum

It's not that the IAMAW union was suckered into voting for a massive giveback to management, hurting themselves financially and, as the Brawler points out, demonstrating a clear need for broader reforms now.

It's something that shows up in the Stillwater, OK workers' complaints about not getting the jobs in their right-to-work state. "It's been a major part of my life," one worker said of MM. He went on, "I've got no voice. This was decided by someone else."

And there it is: That's what unions are for, people. Unions offer voice.

I know that virtually every conservative stopping by here on a regular basis--even those in unions--are certain that unions exists only to protect the lazy, to beat down hardworking industrialists, to Cadillac up pensions and health insurance. (See some of the anti-union bile spat here, in the comments of even a respectable conservative blog.)

But that's not what unions do. Unions let the workers have a say. After the first vote, when MM's union rejected management's attempt to re-write the contract they had agreed to less than a year ago, the workers seemed sanguine. They called the new offer a "slap in the face" and wanted to stand firm with those laid off by the company, who would be brought back at barely better than minimum wage if the pleasure boat market picks back up again. If they were going down, at least they would be going down on their own vote.

The MerCruiser plant in Stillwater? No vote. No voice. No union. "This was decided by someone else."

Is that how you want to live?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The big news today

by folkbum

Is that some guy you've never heard of resigned from a position you didn't know existed and for the right wing, this is the beginning of the end of the Obama administration.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Presidents, School Kids, and Wispy Spines

by bert

It is getting scary out there. Real scary.

Here is the futile letter I sent to the Waukesha Schools Superintendent Todd Gray, who also bravely chose Friday to prohibit his students from hearing a message from a U.S. president.

Dear Superintendent Gray:
I have two daughters attending Waukesha schools, one at ***** and the other at *****. I spoke in person with the ****** principal Mrs.****** as I picked up my girl on Friday. But I also wanted you to know how I feel, because it is obvious that radical, unhinged people in this district have your ear. Hopefully you're willing to hear another perspective as well.

By choosing to allow the president's enemies (because their views are beyond reasonable) to dictate how you run this district, you are harming the education of my children and all future citizens of the United States. Please be aware that other parents in your district have no problem with school children hearing from the president of the United States. I swear on a stack of Bibles (which I think you can also have in school if you want) that I would say the same about George W. Bush or whatever other president, even though I have strong political views.

Now let's be honest. By your saying President Obama's comments can be shown to students later after review by certain teachers who notify parents in advance, you are not taking a middle position that is satisfactory to both sides. You are agreeing with those who believe this speech would indoctrinate students, or want another way to damage the president. You have participated in a tactic that intentionally scores partisan points for one party. This is not an apolitical or neutral decision. I guess we now know whose side you prefer.

We also both know that Obama's speech (which is not a life-or-death message, I grant you) will not be shown much. He has been successfully shut up.

If a teacher distributes literature that documents they want to show this video, won't they expose themselves, if not to you as a supervisor who seems to look with disfavor on whiffs of Democrat-leanings, then to a militant, organized faction of the community? Won't most smart teachers choose not to bring down this storm upon themselves even if they find educational value in Obama's message? (Here I am about to engage in some hyperbole, I admit) Can you make it a policy to now have all of my daughters' teachers warn me in advance when they are planning to expose my girls to U.S. presidents and what they had to say? Seriously, the people with whom you have agreed would also regard FDR's inauguration speech as a source of indoctrination.

To argue that schools cannot afford to lose the time needed for this presentation is also not credible. My older daughter, while attending *****, experienced a visit from the ex-Brewer Ben Sheets as part of a program called "Score". Mr. Sheets, who seems like a great guy, was there for more than 10 minutes, and (I guess I might sound like a Marxist for saying this) what Ben had to say came from a person with less intelligence than the man you have prevented from speaking. I think it’s fine for either to deliver a message for some part of one day of the school year.

Finally, I wanted to bring up the case of another Waukesha school administrator you might have heard of, the former principal at Catholic Memorial High School. As everyone knows, this man was drummed out of his job for daring to have an Obama sign on his lawn during last year's campaign.

So obviously there is an anti-Obama faction around here that is so unhinged but also so militant that they pose risks to the jobs of school administrators. (According to their ideology, there should not be any public schools in the U.S., so you cannot win in trying to placate them.) I am asking you to, rather than embolden them and the risks they pose to our children and society, show enough courage to do the right thing in spite of the discomfort it causes you.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Bert


There is a scene at the opening of the old movie "Down By Law" when Ellen
Barkin's character, with tears and sweat marring her mascara, says on her knees to Tom Waits' character: "Look what you're doing to yourself, Zach. You're digging your own grave." Today I am Ellen Barkin, black slip and all, saying to the country I love the same exact thing.