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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Showing posts with label Peter DiGaudio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Peter DiGaudio. Show all posts

Friday, August 07, 2009

McIlheran Watch: Swastikas

by folkbum

Simple question: Who are you going to believe, McIlheran (conservatives would never use swastikas!) or your lying eyes?



One might also ask McIlheran about this, from a blogger that he thinks his "readers might find interesting." Or this from a guy McIlheran links to daily.

As Atrios said today, "I'm so old I can remember when some random person on the internets made a Nazi comparison in an open video contest and there was a full congressional/media hissy fit."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Because they're lying, that's why

by folkbum

You might be wondering why I haven't written much about the health care debate lately. In part, things have been crazy round these parts, and I haven't written much at all lately. In part, Keith has been doing a fine job.

Mostly, though, it's because the "other side" in this debate refuses to be honest about it. You see it in the comment threads here; I have also tried engaging them in comment threads elsewhere. They lie, and when you explain to them exactly how they're lying, they refuse to acknowledge it and make up something else.

Now, I don't know the origin of all of the crap they're throwing out there. One thing I do know, though, is that all these people who claim to have "read the bill" (HR3200, available in html here and downloadable as a ginormous pdf from lots of places) either haven't or don't have a clue what they're reading.

A friend forwarded an email from Americans for Prosperity this morning, for example, that reads in part,
You see, we had just detailed the “end of life” mandatory counseling provision of the Obama/Pelosi health care takeover for the crowd. Dr. Larry Hunter had just explained that on page 425 and 426 the House bill states that if you are a Medicare recipient you will receive counseling to learn about “end of life” options, including hospice and palliative care.
On this blog, it's called "Obamacare Euthanasia." Berry Laker, in a long list of misreadings of the bill found via Dad29, writes, "Government mandates program for orders for life-sustaining treatment (i.e. end of life). The government has a say in how your life ends." This blog, from which I've been banned for pointing out previous blatant lies, says, "End of life plan for each American citizen ordered by the government."

Scary-sounding stuff, to be sure, but flat-out lies. The section in question from HR3200 begins with the words, ”Section 1861 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395x) is amended …” If you look at the law to be amended, you can see that it's the "Definitions of Services, Institutions, Etc." part of the law that describes services that are reimbursable under Medicare. The provision in HR3200 does not make such sessions mandatory and does not force anyone to do anything or file their living will with the federal government. It does not send a G-Man to your door to tell you how and when you're going to die. Instead, the provision simply says that the doctor can get paid for the time he or she spends talking to you about your living will--something that doesn't happen now. It was originally introduced by a Republican Senator and endorsed by the AARP; the AARP is not so dumb as to endorse a provision that kills off their dues-paying members, are they? No matter how patiently I explain this, the other side refuses to acknowledge reality.

The other side reports with glee every time something bad happens in England (McIlheran does it here, for example), because they deliberately choose to conflate the British socialized National Health Service (where health care workers are government employees) with the reforms being proposed by Congress and the White House, none of which are socialized medicine, "government-run health care," or even single-payer. They'll tell you that HR3200 demands rationing of care. Berry Laker: "YOUR HEALTH CARE WILL BE RATIONED! [. . .] THERE WILL BE A GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE deciding what treatments and benefits you get." He also prints that in red text, because all-caps is apparently not enough emphasis. But the parts of the bill he points to (sections 122 and 123) say nothing of the kind. Section 122 is the Essential Benefits Package Defined section, which sets minimum standards for health insurance coverage, not maximums that lead to rationing. Section 123 establishes an advisory committee whose job it is to periodically review those minimums and decide if they're sufficient.

As part of that, they'll lie to you and tell you that HR3200 outlaws private insurance. Freedom Eden displays that in her sidebar: "Obamacare: You Will Lose Your Current Insurance. Period. End of Story. Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal." Community columnist Kathy Banaszak repeats the lie in the JS this morning. This blogger claims, "Of course it outlaws private insurance. It’s right there in the bill. [. . .] I read the goddamn bill, unlike John Conyers." If he had read the bill, of course, he would have noticed Title II (pages 72-143, so not like it's buried) of the bill, "Health Insurance Exchange and Related Provisions," which establishes a nation-wide network of private insurers--something the right has been clamoring for. Yes, there is a "public option" defined in Title II, but it is in addition to, not in place of, private insurance.

The "page 16" lie has its origins in a lying editorial from Investors Business Daily, which misreads the definition of a "grandfathered health plan"--a plan that exists now but cannot enroll new members after the bill takes effect--and reads that as the end of private insurance altogether. In fact, those "grandfathered" plans are defined (p. 72-73) as "acceptable coverage," meaning they won't be changed or taken away by the bill. And insurance companies and businesses are free to--are, in fact, encouraged to--offer private health care plans (meeting new minimums) and enroll people after the bill takes effect.

A similar lie shows up in Berry Laker's list: "Government will RESTRICT enrollment of special needs people!" he screams, also in red. But, again, that's about grandfathered plans.

There's more, of course. There's the one about how the government will have real-time access to your financial records. The reality is that bill requires, as part of modernizing the system through electronic records, a real-time "determination of an individual’s financial responsibility at the point of service." In other words, not a full picture of your portfolio, but rather whether or not you owe a co-pay.

There's the one about the "national ID card," because the bill says you should have an insurance card. (I already have one! It's the end of the world!)

There's the one about "government will tell you [doctors] where your residency will be, thus where you’ll live" (Berry Laker, again), based on the section that slightly amends an already existing law (see here, scroll down to "(h) Payments for Direct Graduate Medical Education Costs").

There's the one about about the federal government setting pay for all doctors, based on the fact that doctors who voluntarily agree to be a part of the public option plan will be reimbursed at Medicare rates.

There's the one (seen an a LTE this morning) about how the plan doesn't apply to Congress, even though Congresspeople get their benefits through their employers, and, like all other employer-provided insurance in the bill, that's left alone.

There's the one about the feds mandating that everyone get vaccinations, based on the fact that the bill adds a "preventive services" section to another set of definitions in the Social Security Act.

I mean, I could go on for days just on Berry Laker's list alone. It's painful to see so many deliberate falsehoods and misreadings of the bill's language all in one place. (He conveniently offers page numbers, so feel free to download the bill and debunk away over there.)

One last one, though, and it's one we've seen in comments here and elsewhere. (Added: McIlheran used this lie in his lede Friday, citing bogus figures from an insurance-industry funded group.) The bill, HR3200, includes an employer mandate, meaning that all employers must either provide insurance to their workers or must pay a fine of 8% of payroll, which provides subsidies for people who cannot afford to buy into the insurance market (private plan or public option) on their own. The theory goes that since 8% of payroll is far less than what many employers are paying for insurance now, business will dump their employees and take the hit.

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

I mean, I can't call it a lie, because, you know, there's no way to say that it won't happen. But it's an utterly illogical argument.

What's the penalty right now for a business dropping insurance coverage? If you said nothing, you win a prize. Right now, your boss could cancel your health insurance and pay nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero. No "fine" at all. In fact, if you quit in protest, there is probably going to be a long line of people ready to take your place (and maybe work for less), unemployment being what it is, so there is no incentive at all for the boss to try to keep you happy.

Yes, many businesses are going ahead and dropping coverage. But that's still the minority. The vast majority of people still get their insurance at work. So how on earth does it make sense to say that companies that are not dropping coverage now when rates are rising and there's no penalty are going to do it in a heartbeat after the bill passes, adds a penalty (and, we hope, holds down rates)? Past behavior is always a good predictor of future behavior, and past behavior suggests that businesses generally don't want to stop offering insurance, even when there is no penalty for doing so.

To be clear: Not every conservative Cheddarspherean is engaging in the lies this way. A lot of them haven't touched health care reform at all, or if they have, they're leaving it up to Paul Ryan. (Ryan has his own problems, of course.) But I wish some of the respectable members of the Right Cheddarsphere would call out some of their own for spreading this crap.

Finally, it's obvious why they're lying: The reality of the health care proposals is not very scary. In fact, there's broad bipartisan support for the bulk of the reforms. However, this is not about getting good reform done. Some of the Republicans have let slip the truth: This is about getting Obama. This is what they want to be his Waterloo. If Republicans can stop this reform--the fiscal and physical health of the nation be damned--then Obama will be weak and broken and they can dance on the grave of progressives' hope. Many of the blogs I linked to about these lies, for example, are presently reveling in a send-up poster of Obama made-up like Heath Ledger's Joker. This is intensely personal for them! So rather than be honest about what's going in the actual language of the bill, they spread these lies and scary stories.

That's why I haven't been writing about health care. How do you debate someone who willfully misrepresents the proposals, refuses to accept facts as facts, and engages in Bizarro-world thinking? You can't. It's all I can do not to rip my remaining hair out in frustration.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The New Peter DiGuadio: As Bad as the Old

by folkbum

In a post yesterday about what's the become known as "The Eisenstadt Hoax" (see Steve Benen for more), the "new" Peter DiGaudio shows his old colors:
To the nutroots Left, “neocon” is code word for “Jew.” There’s your anti-Semitism. Funny thing is, both filmmakers have surnames which may be Jewish--Gorlin and Mirvish. There’s this theory that the secular Jews are really self-hating and particularly antagonistic toward the orthodox Jews. These may have been the type who sold out their fellow Jews to the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

It may also explain why 78 percent of Jews voted for a presidential candidate with easily distinguishable ties to virulent anti-Semites as well as enemies of Israel and one who is not committed to protection of the Jewish state.
Did you catch that? Aside from the lies about Obama having ties to "virulent anti-Semites," Peter just accused 78% of American Jews of being "the type who sold out their fellow Jews to the Nazis in 1930s Germany." Vote for Obama, he says, and it's just like abetting the Holocaust.

I would link to past instances of this kind of behavior from Peter's old blog but, you know, it's been disappeared.

To engage or not to engage

by folkbum

In all my years in the Cheddarsphere, the other side has often been insufferabe. (I'm sure they would say roughly the same thing about me and my side.) However, in all those years, that other side represented the side in power. I cannot even begin to imagine just how much more untethered they will become once Barack Obama is sworn in January 20. The first week or so of president-elect Obama has been pretty rough already.

I remember the the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president and the conservative media played the role of beleaguered opposition. My mother listened to Rush Limbaugh--I recall Limbaugh's short-lived television program on at the house, too--and G. Gordon Liddy and the like, and had to deal with the misinformation and paranoia that resulted in the house. I remember watching Sunday morning television to see Jerry Falwell hawking video tapes between his rants, tapes that supposedly showed the connection between Clinton and cocaine trafficking with all the murder and other crime associated with it. I recall Ann Coulter on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" (before ABC fired him for being, er, politically incorrect, according to the Bush White House's definition) and being surprised that she could return time after time to spew her nonsense. I've read David Brock.

All of those, of course, happened in mainstream venues with relatively large audiences and, I would hope, some measure of concern for propriety and decency. Yes, even with all the crap flung by the howling right through the Clinton years, I have a feeling that there was a great deal of restraint involved.

Why? Because you're starting to see what an unrestrained out-of-power right-wing movement will look like; take a tour of parts of the right-wing Cheddarsphere (not the parts I generally link to) to see it.

The fringy kooks like Limbaugh and Coulter who we hoped in the 1990s would fade have gone on to become the mainstream faces and voices of Republican and conservative thought. Bullies like Hannity and O'Reilly dominate the discourse where once they would have been consigned to joke status. During the campaign, Obama was repeatedly excoriated for not going to FOX News (where he did eventually sit down with O'Reilly), while no one even seemed to care that John McCain cancelled on Larry King.

But how did the fringe right get so powerful? There are two possibilities: One, the left engaged them and gave them too much credibility (i.e., Maher's use of Coulter). Two, the left chose not to engage and allowed the insanity to take hold. The former view has always made a lot of sense to me; as I said, I do not link to the fringier elements of the conservative Cheddarsphere because I don't feel the need to give them any more attention than they already have. It doesn't seem to matter; consider that in the week since Peter "put a bounty on [Obama's] melon" Digaudio started his new blog, he's already nearing 2000 hits, something that after almost 6 years of blogging is a good week's total for me. Obviously, my ignoring his lunacy has not significantly changed either his writing or his audience.

Or consider this: I have three tabs' worth of Jessica McBride columns open in my browser right now. McBride, off the airwaves for a while now and blogless almost as long, seems to have much less sway in the discourse now. So do I really want to draw attention to the fact that in two columns just before the election (1, 2), McBride calls Barack Obama a "redistributive" "socialist" out-of-the-mainstream candidate ("McCain is a centrist, Obama is not," she wrote)--and in her post election column she leads with, "How can Democrats claim Barack Obama's victory means the country has liberalized when Obama ran as a moderate?" (Note: Some headline writer needs to be fired for calling that column an election "post-partum," rather than a "post-mortem.") How much does pointing out the foolishness and inconsistency really help my side, as opposed to just offering McBride additional credibility?

One more: Pretty much everywhere I go on the righties' blogs these days, "gus" is there (remember him?). He poisons every thread he's on, making them unendurable. It's impossible to have a rational discussion once "gus" hits the comments. See, as a recent example, this post at Badger Blogger, where a few thoughtful liberals try to have a reasonable discussion with a few thoughtful conservatives, and watch how the whole thing falls to hell once "gus" shows up. Do we engage that? How do we engage that? And what good does it do to try to have a conversation if you know that people not already committed to the thread are likely to see "gus" doing his thing and give up reading it?

On the other hand, the latter view, that we failed to engage and allowed the growth of the fringe into the mainstream, is voiced eloquently this week by Dan Shelley, formerly a news director at Milwaukee's WTMJ radio, which is the Wisconsin equivalent of FOX News, with some baseball thrown in. Shelley writes in Milwaukee Magazine how conservative squawkers moved from loony fringe to mainstream:
left WTMJ with some regret [. . .]. In the constant push for ratings, I had seen and helped foster the transformation of AM radio and the rise of conservative hosts. They have a power that is unlikely to decline.

Their rise was also helped by liberals whose ideology, after all, emphasizes tolerance. Their friendly toleration of talk radio merely gave the hosts more credibility. Yet an attitude of intolerance was probably worse: It made the liberals look hypocritical, giving ammunition to talk show hosts who used it with great skill.

But the key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons.
Here, Shelley is clear: By refusing to engage both the hosts' rantings and the listeners' concerns, we liberals let the conservative talk genre thrive. The implied answer is that not only do we have to stand up and engage the arguments head-on, we also have to offer something to the audience--for surely that audience is real, though less powerful than conservatives might like to believe (example)--that allays the fears and offers them a more realistic, more optimistic world view.

When I talk about the influence of this blog--which I maintain is meagre and not something worth touting--I generally talk about the ability to eventually shift the conversation slightly toward (what I see as) the truth, toward a more progressive view of policy and the world in general. For example, my post earlier this week on Obama's "civilian national security force" spent a few days at the top of the google blog search rankings, and I found myself cited as a source to smack-down the paranoia of the right on everything from a classical music usenet group to an ESPN discussion board. Being able to put the facts out there and offer an alternative (and, to some, authoritative) take on a topic is important to me, because it does change the conversation just a little bit. I'm not looking to win the whole game here, just move the ball downfield a yard or two at a time.

But I wouldn't have written that post if I wasn't planning to engage, going directly at some of the local bloggers and their readers who have bought into the idea that Obama was seriously talking about instituting a kind of secret police (some still do buy into that idea).

My ambivalence about this is years old, now, and I don't think I have ever tried to work through it this way before. I think the take-away lesson is that we have to start taking the fights more directly to the fringe. Every day that this kind of paranoia and extremism goes unchecked is a day we've lost the debate. McBride's columns shouldn't linger in open tabs on my computer but ought to be funneled into letter-writing or rebuttals. When the new Peter DiGaudio not only lies about Barack Obama but accuses liberals of being anti-semitic while making some pretty vilely anti-Jewish statements himself (suggesting that 3/4 of American Jews are "really self-hating and [. . .] may have been the type who sold out their fellow Jews to the Nazis in 1930s Germany") he needs to be called on it. By everyone.

So let's engage.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

From the "Giving Credit Where It's Due" File

by folkbum

I'm no fan of Peter DiGaudio--most of you know that. However, he has done something nice for me, and I'm taking a time out from our regularly scheduled liberal fantasia to say a public thank you.

Yesterday, capper linked to this thread at Badger Blogger, about the Thomas Paine Democracy Network. I made a comment there, and one of the Cheddarsphere's--well, there is no nice word to describe him; let me try again. One commenter there, pcd, as he so often does, decided to throw caution, logic, and English grammar to the wind to accuse me, of all things, of sock puppetry.

I may be a fat, bald, pinko commie tool, but I do not, in fact, stoop to the level of, say, John Lott.

The confusion seems to come from the fact that Blogger knows me as Jay Bullock and Haloscan and WordPress know me as folkbum. I don't think there's anyone who reads me regularly or irregularly who would possibly think of those two identities as separate. I mean, if you look at the header of this blog, there's nary an inch between the the two names equating them. This very post, as all my posts, has the folkbum byline atop it and the Jay Bullock attribution (from Blogger) below it. Most importantly, you'll never find me posting under both names, anywhere, at the same time, trying to act as two different people--the definition of sock puppetry.

In the linked Badger Blogger thread, pcd even attempts to attach another commenter's comments to me--those of "Roasted Peanuts," who's been a regular at Badger Blogger as long as I can remember.

Anyway, Peter has been working tirelessly to disabuse pcd of the notion, and for that, I thank him.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

SSDC Copiergate: Suckers!

Updated below.

So what effect did the Wisconsin blogs have on the election just passed? No one has formally asked me that question yet, but in a pique of blogotistical ego, I've had my answer prepared for some time, anyway, just on the off chance that someone would ask. That answer?

None.

And to defend that answer, I think of a couple of emblematic moments from the campaign season. Among the biggest and ugliest of the moments in mind is the State Senate Democratic Committee memo. To refresh your memory (note the last bit):
State Senate Republicans put their hands on the campaign plans of Democrats in June--strategic help they say they lucked into after a legislative aide found the political documents in a Capitol copier five months before the Nov. 7 election.

Keith Gilkes, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, said Wednesday that an aide to a Republican senator found copies of the political plans in the copier early this summer after duplicates had been made. Republicans plan to ask the state Elections Board today to review whether the documents showed an illegal coordination between the State Senate Democratic Committee and groups friendly to its cause, Gilkes said. [. . .] Gilkes provided copies of the documents to the Journal Sentinel but declined to name the aide who found them or the aide's boss. [. . .]

The documents themselves became a campaign issue after they were posted Wednesday on www.bootsandsabers.com and other political Web logs.
For me, this was always a shining example of how the blogs failed, utterly and spectacularly, to live up to their billing. Or their potential. Or anything, really.

Dig it: The Republicans found, back in June, the Democrats' Senate campaign plan. Mid-Octoberish, the Republicans were looking at the kind of numbers that make you call a hail mary, and they leaked the plan in the way that they could create the most noise--they gave it to the bloggers.

Owen at Boots and Sabers wasn't the only recipient. Owen tends to be relatively reasonable--the Republicans needed a respectable face on this--and his first post about the plan, indeed, is tame (breathless updates aside) compared to some others. Owen sees the potential illegality in the duplication of the documents on a state copier, and that's about it. But here's one ballistic leakee, shrieking at the top of his lungs. Another overreaction lies here, with very strong assertions of law-breaking and agitation for action. When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the story, they linked only to Owen, which probably disappointed the Republicans who tried to leak strategically to the most easily excitable in the bunch.

And in the end, of course, not only were there no legal implications related to any possible coordination between the SSDC and third-party groups, the Republicans lost the Senate to Democrats--whose plan they had!--in pretty dramatic fashion. Total help from the blogs? None.

But the story got worse yesterday. You wouldn't think that it could, since it already comes complete with an anticlimactic fizzle despite the screaming nonsense from some of the least sensical of the Republicans' blogging allies. We now have the real story:
A Republican legislative aide looked through a Democrat's binder and made copies of campaign plans inside it five months before the election, a disclosure that shed new light Monday on how the GOP obtained the valuable political documents.

In the weeks before the Nov. 7 election, Keith Gilkes, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, said the aide had found the documents after they had been copied on a Capitol copier. But in a statement released Monday, Capitol aide John O'Brien said he found the originals in June and copied them over concerns they disclosed illegal campaign. [. . .]

Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) said he brought the plans into the Capitol after he mistakenly grabbed a binder that looked like his from Matt Swentkofske, director of the state Senate Democratic Committee. Miller said he left the binder in the copy room next to his office. He often leaves his coat and bag in the room, which doubles as a lunch area.
Dave Diamond has already addressed the disingenuousness of O'Brien's actions. But what struck me while reading of O'Brien's confession, reading about the cover-up of the document's true origins, and thinking back on the way this story played out on the blogs, was simply this:

The bloggers got played. Like an out-of-tune accordion.

One, the leakee bloggers were outright lied to. Owen's first post, for example, notes that he was told that "apparently, some Dem left the Wisconsin State Senate Dem campaign plan on a copier." The people who told Owen that lied to him. I don't know if Owen's source was Gilkes, or just someone on his staff, but what got passed on to Owen and the shriekier bloggers was known to be false when it was passed on. No doubt, Gilkes also lied to the media; but what does it say that the Republicans here didn't think to treat their blogging allies any better than they did the schlumps in the MSM?

Two, the Republicans knew what they wanted to get from the bloggers--hysteria--and they got it, right on cue. Consider, the Republicans had the SSDC memo in June! If they held any doubts about the legality of what was in that document--or of its appearance in a Capitol copy room--they could have gone public or to the State Elections Board right then. But they didn't; they held onto the stuff for four whole months. And even then, rather than go to the necessary authorities, they went to the bloggers. Why? Because the authorities would say, as indeed they later did, that no illegal coordination happened, and then Republicans wouldn't even have enough material for a solid press release. Instead, they released the documents to the bloggers, who did jump up and down and yell and scream that illegal activity was taking place. And, with just that little bit of smoke and mirrors, the story had become News.

Three, the Republicans clearly don't care if their putative allies in the Cheddarsphere look completely foolish. Owen--not to pick on him too much, because he's a nice guy and I feel bad for him (and only him) that he got played--actually drove out to the Capitol to look at and take pictures of the break room where the documents had been found. His conclusion? "Sorry, but I’m not buying Miller’s story." Turns out, by (the real culprit) O'Brien's own admission, Miller's story was 100% true.

Four, the Republicans have put the bloggers in the unenviable position of either having to call for the prosecution of O'Brien--for making copies of political rather than legislative documents on a Capitol copier--or look like hypocrites. All of these bloggers made it clear that they thought Miller or whichever of his aides made the copies should be going to jail. (I made the same call, even back when I thought it might be a Dem who was responsible. I'm nothing if not in favor of obeying the law.) Now that we know there were no Democrats involved, and it was a Republican aide who made the copies--not to mention a chain of Republicans who covered that up--we have to wait to see if those bloggers make the same demands for jail time. As of right now, admittedly an ungodly hour in the morning, I only hear crickets. (Update: In a well-written and poignant post, Owen (rightly) says he's upset and calls for O'Brien's prosecution.)

So there it is. Exhibit A in the case for "Wisconsin bloggers did squat in this election cycle." You got your sound and your fury, and you got nothing in return except a sour taste in your mouth.

For my part, again, I feel bad for someone like Owen in all of this. He probably doesn't need or want my sympathy, but he was duped, and you can't help but feel for the guy. In the end, I hope he was able to get a bit of a laugh: The news reports tell us that John O'Brien is spending some time away from the Capitol on "an extended medical leave." There's something deliciously ironic about someone in state government actually using their sick time--and for this!

Further update: Again, read Owen. Peter, too, is mad he was lied to, and demands legal repercussions. Also, Seth independently arrived at the same conclusion I did, and celebrates Sen. Miller's vindication in the matter.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is that a deficit in your pocket, or are you just happy to see it?

Wisconsin's conservatives are revelling in the news that Wisconsin faces a $1.6 billion deficit heading into the next budget cycle:
Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature will have to close a $1.6 billion deficit as they develop the next two-year budget, according to a new report released Monday.

Officials vowed that they would not raise taxes to close the gap between what state agencies say they need and what taxes are expected to generate.

The $1.6 billion figure was the latest estimate of the so-called structural deficit facing the state. It is about 6% of the $26.4 billion that state government is on track to collect in taxes and fees over the next two years.
They're revelling because it's Jim Doyle who is the public face of that shortfall, and not Mark Green, and because with one house of the legislature now in Democratic hands, they can blame us for any failure. You've got everything from smarmy I told you sos to you get what you deserve coming from their side, with a healthy dose of Doyle lied, he lied, he lied because he claimed to have balanced the budget (I paraphrased a little). But let's go back to the story, shall we?
Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature will have to close a $1.6 billion [. . .] gap between what state agencies say they need and what taxes are expected to generate.
One thing the critics are forgetting is that we don't owe anyone any actual money yet; this is just the gap between budget requests and projected revenues for the next two years. Two years ago (note that date on that memo, Rick), we got an almost identical report, and, by all accounts, we expect to end this biennium with a small--in the tens of millions--surplus. In other words (raids to the transportation fund notwithstanding), it's the righties here who are lying when they say Doyle didn't--past tense--balance the budget. The 2007-2009 budget isn't written yet; Doyle didn't claim to have balanced it yet; we don't even know the details of all the agencies' demands yet. How can Doyle have lied about something that hasn't even happened?

I suppose turnabout is, indeed, fair play, since we are still dealing with the aftermath of the Thompson-McCallum years (where's our tobacco settlement money?). But I can only imagine sighs of relief from their side--along with their stifled giggles--that Green won't be dealing with the problem. Green, if you recall, couldn't even begin to describe how he'd address budget issues during the campaign just completed (staying vague on purpose?), beyond just promising to spend money wisely and cut taxes.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the projected deficit here won't shrink as the budget process nears, and we face a full $1.6 billion shortfall. Rather than just lie about Doyle and snigger at the challenge he and the legislature faces (or predict end-of-the-world tax and fee hikes), I challenge the right to propose a solution. What would you cut? Do we educate 80,000 fewer K-12 children? Release 20,000 prisoners? Pave 800 fewer miles (.pdf)?

Personally, I think we do something bold and try to fix the high cost of health care:
Employers in Wisconsin pay an estimated 26.5% more to provide health benefits than the national average, according to a respected national survey released Monday.

The annual survey by Mercer Health & Benefits LLC found that health benefit costs average $9,516 this year for each employee in Wisconsin, compared with $7,523 nationally. That's $1,993 in additional average costs for each employee.

The Mercer survey also found that costs in Wisconsin rose this year at a faster rate, 9.3% on average, compared with 6.1% nationally.
If you think these stories--deficits and health care--aren't related, you're not paying attention. If the state paid less for its employees' health care (and all the local units of government, too--not to mention you, the consumer/ citizen/ taxpayer), the projected cost of running the place would fall and there would be more money in your pocket, too. I continue to lament that, fifteen years ago when the state tinkered with school funding formulas (adding revenue caps and the QEO), they didn't tackle health care instead. If they'd done the work then to keep health care inflation at closer to overall inflation--or just closer to the national average for health care costs--we wouldn't be facing a deficit now. See my post yesterday, or Carrie or Ben for more.

So there's my idea. Now you--give us a hand, oh ye wise sages of AM radio and the Right Cheddarsphere. Don't just dance your happy dance, and don't be vague like Mark Green. Try to be productive in this discussion, and put your ideas where your big mouths are.

Update: More from Seth, here, and you can make up your own mind about Milwaukee Journal Sentinel bias.
Update 2: Carrie takes on Charlie Sykes and George Mitchell; in short, they're all wet.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Novak, Plame, DiGaudio, and the Lies that Won't Die

I am not an expert on the "Plame-Gate" mess. I mean, I hardly write about it at all, and when I do, it tends be lame comparisons to TV shows.

I am, however, an expert on beating back the lies and distortions of Wisconsin bloggers, since, you know, someone has to do it.

When Bob Novak published his column this week, he finally spilled some of the beans about what he--conspicuously silent for years--has been up to in the much-scrutinzed case surrounding the outing of CIA agent Valerie (Plame) Wilson, whom Novak named in another column way back in July of 2003. The Nov-ster was the first to print her name and note that she was a CIA analyst, a revelation--combined with his later naming of the front company she supposedly worked for--that jeopardized work on Mid-East weapons of mass destruction.

The new column provides some new information--the name of two of three of his government sources--but most of the info is stuff that even casual observers of the Plame Game have probably already heard. For example, there's the fact that he claims to have learned Plame's name from Who's Who in America. Fine; I'm willing to believe that his unnamed Bush Adminisration source told him that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA--the same CIA that sent Wilson to Niger where he learned that Administration claims of Iraq trying to buy yellowcake uraium were false, and that the infamous "16 words" in Bush's 2003 State of the Union were misleading at best. At which point, Novak flipped open his copy of Who's Who in America to the Wilson section and saw this (.pdf), which does in fact list Wilson's wife by her maiden name, Plame.

The problem is not, of course, that Novak put Plame's name in his column, nor even that he identified her as Wilson's wife. None of those things were secret. The problem is that her status as a covert operative for the CIA was a secret, and the revelation of her name--as well as Novak's subsequent naming of the front company she worked for--blew the cover of one US operation to stop the proliferation of WMD in the Middle East. (In the post below, I opted for a bad example of the Bush Administration interrupting one of its own investigations for partisan political purposes in the AQ Khan case; I could have used this one.)

Whether or not you buy the Who's Who story, one thing is clear: The book does not say Plame was a CIA operative, no matter what FOX News commentators might say.

And, of course, the Right Cheddarsphere is not far behind. From Peter DiGaudio, Wednesday:
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak admits he learned that Plame, husband of noted Bush basher and Democratic operative Joe Wilson, was an analyst for the CIA from Wilson’s entry in Who’s Who in America.

That’s right. Who’s Who in America, not some nefarious plot by Dick Cheney and Karl Rove to “out” a covert agent in retaliation for Wilson’s activities. [. . .] In short, much ado about nothing.
Did you catch that? In complete contravention of what Novak actually said--as well as in complete contravention of the facts of the case--Peter dismisses the whole Plame affair as "much ado about nothing" based on the untrue assertion that Who's Who had outed Plame, not Novak. That's right; despite the fact that Plame was unquestionably covert, and that her neighbors didn't even know she worked at the CIA, Peter (and, apparently,a FOX News commentator) believes that she and Joe Wilson were so stupid as to have noted it in Who's Who.

I think this is all part of the undying lie that outing a CIA agent, as Novak did at the behest of his administration sources, is no big deal (much ado about nothing, so to speak). How anyone can believe this, I don't know. All the attempts, even in plain contradiction of the facts, to try to say that she wasn't undercover or at least not deeply, or that Aldrich Ames gave her name to the Russians, or whatever, is to try to make the investigation into how the outing happened seem illegitimate.

Remember that the one idicted person from the investigation so far was not, in fact, indicted for the outing, but for the cover-up; lying to the FBI and prosecutors is a crime no matter what you may be talking to them about. Even if no one is ever indicted for blowing the cover of a CIA agent to the press--and saying that she is "fair game," according to Chris Matthews--there is still something wrong (and suspicious) about an administration-organized cover-up. There's also something creepy about an operation hatched by the vice president (see his hand-written notes here) to get one guy just because that guy speaks out against the adminsitration. That sort of thing shouldn't be happening in this country, whether you think Wilson was right or not in what he said.

One thing I do know, though: Peter DiGaudio is most certainly not right in what he wrote. But, as he said in response to my comments telling him that, it will be a cold day in hell before he admits it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

McIlheran Watch: Lies that won't die

The conservative half of the blogeteria was in hysterics over the weekend based on a report out of Canada stating that Iran, bugaboo du jour of the martial right, had passed a law requiring Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims to wear colored tags identifying them as such.

Trouble is, no such law was ever passed.

But the conservative Cheddarspherians are not backing down from their stories. Owen was in Appleton all weekend at Woodstock or something, which may explain why he hasn't taken down his post. Peter claims that he doesn't "see anything in the denials that convinces me the original story is inaccurate." He goes on to say that "just because someone in Iran says it isn't true doesn't mean it isn't true."

Had he read the links I and mr. mxp provided him in his comments, Peter would have seen that it wasn't just "someone in Iran" saying that the law in question never existed. it was, in fact, a Jewish representative from Iran's Parliament (plus plenty of other poeple in positions to know). Peter thinks he can get away with not retracting the story by saying "to me, this fits the evil that is eminating from these nutjobs." In other words, because this is the sort of thing Iran might do, I will believe it even if it is clearly false.

This is where our good friend Patrick McIlheran comes in:
It was my honor to be one of the panelists Sunday on “Sunday Insight with Charles Sykes.” On it, I mentioned the report from Canada’s national newspaper, the National Post, that Iran passed a law requiring non-Muslims to wear colored badges identifying them as Jews, Christians or Zoroastrians.

The day after the show was taped, National Post reported that Iran denied such a law was passed. A spokesman for the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation also said that Jews in Iran said that no such measure was in place--though the spokesman, Sam Kermanian, “added that Jews in Iran still face widespread, systematic discrimination,” according to National Post.
You'd think that here, P-Mac would say "my bad" and move on. But the title of his post is "Retraction. Well, OK, not a retraction." And he quotes the parts of the National Post citing others who doubt the falsity of the story.

In particular is this line from Bush-buddy and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who must read Peter's blog: "Unfortunately," Harper said, "we’ve seen enough already from the Iranian regime to suggest that it is very capable of this kind of action."

I'm not saying Iran is all lollipops and roses for everyone living there, but we should not try to prop up lies when there are plenty of truths to tell. We've been down that road before--and it turns out to be very expensive. But Iran is the story suddenly being thrust into our consciousness, hawks apparently being bored with Iraq. And so any story that can be spun will be spun, and for many months now, no doubt, some people on the internet and perhaps even in real life, will defend a (potential?) decision to attack Iran by citing the law that never was. In the meantime, real tragedies--like the horror show in Darfur--will go unremarked.

For example, Daily Kos front-pager SusanG suggests we look closer to home:
As a long haul suggestion then, I would offer this advice to the coming-late-to-the-party faux feminists on the right: Forget Iran. Begin with Saudi Arabia. Yes, Iran is oppressive to women. But at least there women can vote, run for office and drive. In Saudi Arabia, they can do none of these things, and just last week word came down from their king that women are no longer to be allowed to have their pictures in newspapers.

Since we are (temporarily) on better terms with the Saudis, perhaps we can get our country's hand-holding president to whisper in a sheik's ear that public erasure of half its population is just ... not quite playing well in Peoria. My guess is, we'll have to wait for a Democratic president to play even the politest game of hard ball with the Saudis--and even then, only once we're on the road to energy independence.
So, add another one to the list of lies that won't die--like Al Gore's having claimed to invent the internet, or that cutting taxes raises revenue, or that Bush speaks Spanish.

(Update: Casper points out in the comments that his blogmate Cantankerous covered this on Saturday. I didn't see it.)

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Robbery! Wisconsin's Congresspeople owe you 31¢

There's this thing they say about local TV news: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, if a story can be sensationalized and work people into a tizzy, it deserves prominence even if it creates an inaccurate picture of the way the world actually is.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel never passes up a chance to do the same thing to our politicians--usually Governor Doyle--and today they go after our congressional delegation:
Wisconsin's eight House lawmakers spent nearly $1.7 million on "franked mail" from 2003 through 2005, a review by the Journal Sentinel found.

Letters, brochures, constituent surveys--these and other mailings all go out at taxpayers' expense. Thanks to a system known as "congressional franking," lawmakers need not bother with postage; their signature suffices. [. . .]

With changes in both franking rules and technology, spending is no longer restricted to mail. Lawmakers also use automated phone calls, newspaper ads and high-volume e-mails to put out the word that they're doing their job.

Taken together, it's a built-in advantage for incumbents, political scientists say.
While I won't deny that the last statement is true, the paper is clearly overblowing the story. Some of the Cheddarshere has also fallen for it, too: From the left, Tony Palmieri raises his Pork Advisory warning level; from the right, Peter DiGaudio complains about the "staggering cost" of government spending--presumably, the cost of the franking a part of that.

But here's the deal: The paper reports that between 2003 and 2005--over three years--Wisconsin's eight representatives spent nearly $1.7 million. If you do the math, that's about 31¢ for every citizen of Wisconsin. Ten cents a year per person. Even if you wanted to go per household, you might be talking a dollar per household for the last three years. That won't even buy you the newspaper that reported the story.

But, you know, it bleeds.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Mexican Flags

Lately, there's been quite the dust-up over the whole Mexican flag thing. For example, Patrick McIlheran complained about the flags coming out during protests last week. Peter DiGaudio, too, wonders "What's with waving the Mexican flag? You are giving the middle finger to Mexico by leaving and supposedly want to be Americans. Why not wave the American flag?"

I have to say I might be coming around on this issue. I think that anyone who walks around waving the Mexican flag should face consequences. If they work for the federal government, in particular, they should be fired.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Peter DiGaudio owes me $1000

Tucked in behind his wishing death upon liberal celebrities (is that "the job the Mainstream Media used to do"?), and buried in a long ranting post about those horrible liberals, is this:
No one ever said Iraq was tied to 9/11 and I have a standing offer of $1,000 cash to anyone who can produce a quote from President Bush or any official who ever said that.
I know, I know--you're all clamoring for the cash prize, but I'm claiming it first. We can start here, when Bush said "The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war.” Bush said that just a week or so after he said, "We went to war because we were attacked." This was less than a year ago.

And then there's Dick Cheney, who said, famously, in direct response to the question "Do you still believe there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?" that it's "been pretty well confirmed, that [9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack." Cheney, of course, later denied having said that (despite the White House web site transcript), leading to one of my favorite "Daily Show" moments ever.

More? You want more? Here's one list, with, among others, classics like Tom Ridge's "Well...Iraq was not the first stage of the war. The first was on September 11." Here's a second list. And who can forget that "Mission Accomplished" moment when Bush said "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001"? Here's a good Christian Science Monitor article from around the beginning of the Iraq war that traces many of the ways the administration linked 9/11 and Iraq.

That ought to be enough to satisfy the requirements, eh? I'll just assume my check is in the mail.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Speaking of lies spin . . .

[Updated! See below!] One of my favorite bloggers once noted that part of her M.O. was to flit around blogs from the other side until something made her mad, and then to blog about that. It's not a bad M.O.

I was stuck waiting around for the doctor's office to call me back, not wanting to dig into the pile of rough drafts just yet, when I stumbled across this post from Peter DiGaudio, one of the Usual Suspects. Entitled "Empowering Terrorists," the post begins with that trademarked DiGaudio civility, with his calling the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee "Sen. Arlen 'Magic Bullet' Spector (RINO-Al Qaeda)." DiGaudio is upset that Specter would demand FISA judicial review for the president's program of warrantless and currently un-reviewed wiretaps being conducted on US citizens and other "US persons."

But what got me hopped up enough to blog it was these two paragraphs, which have to be two of the most densely-false paragraphs I've read in a long time:
So why propose anything that will make it even more difficult to track and monitor terrorist operatives? The FISA Act has no relevance in dealing with today's threats. With terrorists communicating via disposable cell phones, the 72 hours it would take to get a FISA court warrant would make it impossible to track and monitor those plotting the next 9/11.

The fact that usually sensible folks like former Rep. Bob Barr are opposed to this reflects poorly on the national media's deliberate misrepresentation of this program. Once again, this is not "domestic spying." My phone calls are not being monitored, nor are my e-mails, nor anything else.
You know, in my last post, I took Fred at RealDebate to task for missing facts and the calling people who opine based on those facts he doesn't have liars. Here, we have a perfect example of someone missing facts and substituting opinion instead. The violations are numerous:
  • Specter's bill does not make anything "more difficult." Notice,
    Specter said his proposal would empower the court established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to review the National Security Agency's domestic anti-terrorist surveillance every 45 days to ensure it does not go beyond limits described by the administration. Currently, Bush himself reviews the program and signs off on its continuation every 45 days.
    There is nothing in the bill that requires FISA warrants for these currently warrentless wiretaps; there is nothing in the bill at all, really, except a provision that puts oversight of this program into the judicial branch instead of allowing the executive branch to oversee itself.

  • FISA is not irrelevant, and is in fact quite flexible. It was amended with the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act to make it more responsive to modern telecommunications (see this page, for example). The court itself almost never rejects warrant applications, meaning that they must understand their "relevance." But it's DiGaudio's point here that is irrelevant: Specter's bill requires no warrants.

  • It does not take 72 hours to get a warrant. Either the talk radio is lying to him, or DiGaudio is deliberately misreading the law: The 72 hours is the retroactive limit; the NSA can start spying right away on anyone it suspects, as long as they go to the court with their evidence later. Of course this is also irrelevant: Specter's bill requires no warrants.

  • If I were trying to be funny, I would say that Bob Barr was never sensible . . . but I won't. Instead I will just point out that the last time a president was found to have broken the law (and Bush has admitted to bypassing FISA) Bob Barr led the charge for impeachment. Sounds consistent to me.

  • I'm curious to know how DiGaudio thinks the media has misrepresented the story. If he means that they have presented uncomfortable (for him) facts like the ones I name here, then that's not misrepresentation at all. Clearly, DiGaudio is upset that people are saying things that contradict his world view; the only misrepresentation I see is DiGaudio's distortion of reality.

  • Finally, I love how he asserts that since his calls are not being tapped (that he knows about), the program "is not 'domestic spying.' " Well, I wonder what he would call surveilling US citizens inside the United States? Giving puppies to the poor?
So there you go. Six sentences, six falsehoods.

The last time I noted the factual innacuracies and blatant spin at DiGaudio's place on this very topic, he offered no corrections, no anything. Let us see if this time he cleans up the untruths.

UPDATE: DiGaudio lets his imagination run wild, applying his falsehoods here to the story of three terror suspects in Ohio. He writes,
keep in mind that if Feingold, Ted "The Swimmer" Kennedy, Sen. Depends (Patrick "Leaky" Leahy), the ACLU, and now even Arlen "Magic Bullet" Spector had their way, the tools used to capture these traitors plotting attacks inside our borders would not be made available to the fed, and consequently these terrorists would have escaped detection.

That's right: two of the tools used here were the warrantless wiretaps and surveillance and the Patriot Act.
Ahh . . . that DiGaudio civility. But that's not important: What's important is that he claims the feds used the warrantless wiretaps to catch the bad guys. This is not true. From the FOX News story he cites: "One official told FOX News that this investigation used all the tools, including FISA warrants. 'A lot of FISAs,' one source said, referring to the warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." And besides (I say again), Specter's bill requires no warrants.

Monday, February 06, 2006

DiGaudio's Math

The sour-graped one continues his tirade:
Including all compensation, the MTEA teacher makes $67,456.97 per year[*]. This includes straight salary, the cash value of health insurance (if he or she had to pay for a comparable policy with the same coverage out-of-pocket), contribution to the employee's pension, dental and vision insurance, and the total compensation to FICA and Medicare.

Including all compensation, for actually doing that teacher's job, I make $7,280 per year. This includes the cash value of health insurance (if he or she had to pay for a comparable policy with the same coverage out-of-pocket), contribution to the employee's pension, dental and vision insurance, and the total compensation to FICA and Medicare, the sum total of which equals ZERO. That is my annual income. I make 10.7% of what the MTEA teacher specified makes, with as much or more education.
Peter "I will bet my house and property I can do any MTEA member's job better than they can" DiGaudio is responsible for 12 students for one hour each (according to the end of this post). He also says he earns $240 a week, meaning he must only work 30 weeks to teachers' 40**. The average Milwaukee high school teacher is responsible for about 150 students for one hour each. At his rate, if DiGaudio had the workload of an MPS teacher, he would be paid $91,000 for his 30 weeks, or $121,000 for 40. (A similar calculation can exist for elementary school teachers, who often teach fewer students total, but teach them five or six subjects daily.)

Or look at it another way: DiGaudio is paid $20 of taxpayer money (the group he works for is paid by Title I dollars under No Child Left Behind) to teach one student for one hour. The MPS teacher--assuming no work during prep, lunch, or at home, since that's DiGaudio's life--is compensated $64 an hour to teach however many students are assigned to her one-hour class. At DiGaudio's rate, if he had a small, small class, he would earn, say, $400 to teach 20 students for an hour.

Want more? The MPS average student-teacher ratio at the high school level (in other words, at what increment of additional students is another teacher*** assigned to a building) is 25:1; however, each teacher teaches for about 5.5 hours a day. We can say that the "student-hours" for a teacher might be the product--137.5 student hours. DiGaudio's student-hours total is 12. Dividing the compensation numbers, the MPS teacher is paid $487 per student-hour (40 weeks; $365 for 30 weeks) . DiGaudio? $809 (40-week rate; $607 for his current 30 weeks).

We can go on and on. Clearly, we can take away two things: DiGaudio is really, really steamed that MPS won't hire him. And, public school teachers are just too danged efficient, since we do his job at a cheaper rate.

* This number should be lower, as Milwaukee-ID10T, whose post this is based upon, missed about $800 worth of employee contributions to average health care.
** Updated 2/7, once I remembered the 30 weeks thing, with updated numbers noted throughout
*** "Teacher" in this case also refers to other members of the bargaining unit, such as counselors, librarians, and tech coordinators, who don't so much "teach" students but still come out of the "teachers" budget line.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A long and spirited defense of, well, me

I'm sick. Metaphorically and literally. I have felt miserable all week, and finally got to the doctor Friday afternoon. I have pills. They are approximately the size of watermelons. I'm also not looking forward to next week, when I will be stuck for three solid days in Kansas City for a conference I'd rather not go to.

And now I find myself further invoked by the Hold 'Em playing blogger, once directly and once indirectly, neither in a nice way. Throw in Blogger's down-time all day yesterday, and, well, you get the idea. On with the show . . .

It is not surprising to read anti-teacher diatribes from the right, which now are almost as common as anti-union ones anymore. So this DiGaudio post does not come as a shock:
I have a number of problems with government-run education. Not the least of which is the monopoly nature of the government-run schools. [. . .] Jay Bullock over at folkbum's rants and rambles, an MTEA teacher in MPS, tries to make the case that there is open competition between public and private schools, since private schools existed before choice. That's disingenuous, and he knows it. There is no real parental choice unless you are an affluent family. Poor and middle class families have little choice but the slums of government-run education.
Finally, people are starting to catch on to the lower-case thing, but how hard is it to get the name right? More seriously, Peter is the one being disingenuous.

One of the most common "liberal" arguments for programs like the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is that the wealthy have always had de facto choice about where to send their children for school. This is true. But the poor and middle class have also had opportunities--moreso in a city like Milwaukee, of a certain size and with strong religious communities. Private schools have long offered scholarship programs, especially religious schools, where it was very important to be sure that children from the community had a chance to attend. Even without those opportunities, I have heard many parents today wonder why this generation should get a Catholic or other private school education handed to them when their parents had to struggle and save to send them.

But beyond that, the right in this country--and in the fight over vouchers--is so flush with cash that they could easily pay for voucher students to attend private schools. Maybe not all $94 million worth this year, but should the cap not get lifted, just the amount that they are spending on the current anti-cap ad campaign would cover all those over the cap next fall--especially given the prediction that that number will be low. Or consider PAVE--Partners Advancing Values in Education--a Milwaukee-based organization that for the better part of a decade provided vouchers to Milwaukee children so they could attend religious schools. They provided vouchers, that is, right up until the moment that they won their multi-million dollar lawsuit forcing the state to subsidize religious education through state vouchers.

There's an irony in all of this: Private groups spending money, and tons of it, designed to force the government to hand over taxpayer money to private groups. This is not the definition of conservative I learned I school. (This is the same irony at work in the case of anti-tax, anti-government Orville Seymour suing Milwaukee County for $1 million of our tax money.)

The more important statistic? Even with the advent of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, private school enrollment continues to decline overall. That's right, boys and girls, there are fewer students in private schools in Milwaukee right now than there were in 1990 when the MPCP began. Much of this is attributable to the overall decline in school-age children in Milwaukee, sure. But it blows the hell out of the right's claims that there has never been competition for Milwaukee's schools before now.

Saying that the public schools have a monopoly is like saying that the police department is a monopoly, the state has a monopoly on highways, or if we only had competing state legislatures, then our taxes would be really, really low. The state is required, in our constitution, to provide a free education. We do that, and, despite whatever the critics may feel, we do it to the best of our ability. A lack of competition--competition that, in fact, we don't lack--is most decidedly not what makes our test scores low.

But DiGaudio, as is his wont, didn't stop there. He had to continue:
I see the products of "gummint skoolz" every damn day in my line of work. These products of the wonderful government system cannot read, write or do math at beyond a first or second grade level. All of these kids are between eighth and 11th grade. That is pathetic, and to hear anyone even defending this as a quality product frosts me. This is a pure end result of a monopoly. These kids and others like them have no real future. At most menial jobs such as fast food workers, but more likely gangs, drugs, crime, prison and death. [. . .]

There is a bit of a personal story here which I have to admit colors my opinion to a certain extent. I am currently working for one of the supplemental service providers for MPS, earning a flat rate of $20 per one hour session to work with the failing products of MTEA members who cannot do their jobs properly. I have 12 clients that I see each week. That is my income. Period. No benefits, no retirement. Nothing. You do the math. I am doing your work for you and not getting compensated as well as you are for not doing your job.
The last part of that--income, benefits, whatnot--will come back to haunt us in a moment, but for now I want to focus on the first part. DiGaudio feels free to judge MPS as a whole--and MPS teachers as a whole--because he works for a tutoring company that provides services to MPS students who need help. When he says he sees "the products of 'gumint skoolz' every damn day," the students he sees are the ones who need the most remedial help, clearly not a representative sample. I, too, can tell the story of the year I spent working for the Sylvan Learning Center, where almost all of the students I tutored (and, how I would love to have that 3-1 student-teacher ratio in my classrooms!) were from well-heeled suburban districts or private and religious schools. This is, I know, in great part because prior to No Child Left Behind, which allows your and my tax dollars to pay people like DiGaudio and his boss, Sylvan and its counterparts were priced such that MPS parents often could not afford it. Until NCLB, in fact, there was no Sylvan franchise anywhere in the city proper.

But did I judge, say, the University School of Milwaukee, based in the poor-performing students from there who came to see me at Sylvan? No, of course not. DiGaudio does for MPS, though.

Now, I am not so disingenuous as to dismiss the dismal statistics about MPS that, believe me, I know all too well. We do have too many students who cannot read or do math at grade level. Does DiGuadio think that I don't see these student every damn working day of my life, and that I don't think about how best to teach them on even my days off? Of course I do. Does he think I don't know that many of these kids seem to have no real future? Of course I do, and I have even written here before about how so many of my students seem to have internalized that for themselves, and have "checked-out" mentally, before they even get to me. That's one of the things that makes my job so hard: Students see non-educated members of their own community being successful--and educated ones still going to jail--and therefore do not see the value in an education. With the help of parents--or of themselves, if they get the gumption--they can succeed, and many do. But not all, and to blame, as DiGaudio calls us, "WEAC thugs" for the failure is to absolve the 85% of a student's life he doesn't spend with any of us of all responsibility.

It is easier, in other words, for conservatives to blame teachers for failing urban schools than it is to fix the problems of urban centers in America. It is easier to ask for the "market" to fix schools than it is to do the dirty work of fixing unemployment, poverty, transience, health care, or anything else that makes education a slightly lower priority than, say, trying to stay alive and healthy.

Not content to judge MPS by its worst fruits, DiGaudio continues his story:
I have applied to the local district here and to MPS. As well as virtually every surrounding district in the area. Every year since 1986. Wanna guess how many interviews I have had? None. Not one. In 20 years. So there is a tinge of bitterness on my part. I have to admit that. I see the end effect of lousy teachers and cannot understand why no district around here wants the services of a qualified, highly competent professional. [. . .]

So here I sit. Doing what I can to help fix a broken system. One that I could do a better job of fixing it from within than from without.
At least he's honest about the sour grapes thing. We now know that it isn't just his conservative ideology that makes us all out to be "WEAC thugs"; it's also that fact that no one let him in our club. I don't know what his certification is (he says elsewhere he has an Masters in Education, but not what he's licensed to teach), but I doubt he'll have much luck this year, either; remember, I'm predicting layoffs.

All of that, of course, is just foreground for where DiGaudio and friends go next. It begins at the home of Milwaukee-ID10T (his name for himself, not mine), with a post called, Do MPS Teachers Really Have It That Bad? The post is a near-perfect strawman, as nowhere in the arguments for or against vouchers or anywhere else in recent memory has there been a great upswelling of "we teachers have it so rough!" Some of us, famously even, have been saying for some time that more money is not what we need. Digging around for something different recently, I found this old post of mine from a different blog where I take issue with our current superintendent's view that "What young people are looking for is a higher wage." In discussing Anna Qunidlen's "The Wages of Teaching," I noted that the whole idea is one of myth. As I commented below the ID10T's post, the only time I have suggested higher starting salaries is in an attempt to draw better people to the fold.

The ID10T makes several factual errors in his post, still uncorrected, which I also pointed out in the comments. DiGaudio magnifies the errors in his own approving post--things like saying we have paid vacation time over winter and spring break. We do not. The sour grapes of the Hold 'Em-playing one also come through: "All this for doing a job MTEA teachers aren't doing .... how about cutting me in on some of the gravy?" he asks.

But it's the strawman factor that gets me most of all. As the ID10T asks in a comment below mine,
Recent college grads would probably be more willing to get into teaching if [t]hey were not constantly bombarded with msgs by the WEAC/MSM and other sources complaining about how bad it is. Why would any normal person want to go into a profession that all they hear about is negativity. If WEAC and other liberally slanted groups wanted more teachers then they should be out there being positive about such a career choice. Oh wait - Thats right, Supply and demand. The fewer teachers there are in the system the more money they are worth. The more money they are worth, the more money the unions get in dues. (2 hrs a pay period) The more money they get in dues, the more money they can give to other liberal leaning socialist organizations. And then the more powerful they become. Never mind. WEAC will never promote teaching as a profession. They would lose to much power.
First, the ID10T misstates the way dues are assessed--they have nothing to do with how much we are paid. I pay as much as someone 20 years my senior, who pays as much as someone who started teaching this year. Second, the ID10T's argument here runs counter to everything his side has been saying about the union's motivations to oppose the voucher program. He says we want an artificially low supply compared to the demand. Aside from seeming to run counter to NEA's dire predictions of teacher shortages, it breaks with the conservative calcualtion that fewer public school students means fewer public school teachers means less in dues, and that's why the union opposes vouchers. The ID10T's side needs to make sure that they all have their stories straight.

Throw in some old-school union bashing, and you have the gist of the argument.

The kicker, of course, is DiGaudio's comments to that post:
I'm probably better than 90% of the clowns on the MPS payroll and in the MTEA. Hiring me would be an upgrade anywhere. I have applied each of the last 4 years and probably 10 times in the past 20 without one single interview.

I'll match my recommendations and evaluations with you, Jay, and any damned person on the MPS payroll. Tell me why? Hell, I told HR I'd even move to Milwaukee because it's better than the pissant piece of crap worthless work I am doing now.

And, I will bet I can do your job better than you can.
No one hired him? Hm.

Fellas, go back to what I wrote about "The Wages of Teaching," if you really want to know why people don't want to become teachers:
If Quindlen is right that the American people should be our biggest advocates, then those same people ought to recognize that it was the teachers who reached them--not the meddling anti-tax forces, the know-it-all politicians, or the privateers who currently run the Department of Education--who deserve the praise and rewards. It was the teachers who helped them "levitate" who created conditions for success, not vouchers or Intelligent Design or corporate America.

Think back for just a second about your favorite school teacher, one who really did help you levitate, and ask yourself this: Would I meddle now in how that teacher does her job? Would that teacher have been as effective with me then if he'd had to prepare me for a standardized test? Would that teacher agree with me if I'd said to her face that she had an easy job--summers off and weekends free?

You know what the answers are. You know what the solution is: Stop perpetuating myths and start respecting and supporting what we teachers do.
The reason the best and the brightest don't want to be teachers is because every time we turn around, somebody is calling us "thugs," questioning our intelligence, berating us for failing our students. You can't turn on the radio or read a newspaper without learning how awful we are, how poisonous our union is, how unvalued we are by society. We are told by the Kafka-esque bureaucracies to teach to the test, do these mountains of paperwork, blow with the ever-shifting winds of "reform."

Once in a great while, a parent or student expresses their appreciation, and those days--those days--we stop regretting our decision to be teachers.

Only on those days.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

MTEA's ad, and the irrational Cheddarsphere's foaming response

The pro-voucher folks dump what must be hundreds of thousands of dollars into the ads calling for an end to the "cap" on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, ads that, on occasion, have labeled the other side--my side--racists. And the right Cheddarsphere stands up and applauds.

Predictably, the moment someone from the other side starts presenting fact-based arguments against wanton cap-lifting, the same half of the Cheddarsphere goes crazy. Even I got hit with some of the mouth-foam, and I haven't even written about it yet.

The ad is produced by my union (putting the biases up front), the MTEA. You can listen it to it here; the newspaper's story from this morning is here; Seth's take is excellent.

Much of the right's consternation comes from the fact that someone is finally mounting a more public opposition campaign. "Th-th-they can't do that!" they sputter. "Consider their motives!" they say. Face it: Someone has to stand up for the public schools. Milwaukee's public servants--our elected representatives--are doing that, but they only get as much access to the court of public opinion as the papers let them have. The school district is in no position to spend money (what money?) to defend itself. Who else would do it?

Then, of course, there are those who don't want to accept the facts presented in the ad. Fraley:
The value of homes in Milwaukee are not decreasing due to School Choice. School Choice is not the cause of MPS' problems. Choice schools have accountability and their performance certainly can be no worse than MPS.
Pawlak:
How can 15,000 kids going to private schools equal an *increase* in MPS clas size? [. . .] How is taking 15,000 children out of MPS causing a decrease in educational materials available to the remaining students?
Somehow, they refuse to believe that sucking money out of the public schools could serve to increase class sizes, create shortages of supplies, and otherwise jeopardize schools' quality. Because yes MPS pays for these voucher students, these voucher students that state doesn't count as MPS's. They also don't consider that the higher taxes Milwaukee residents are paying because of the voucher program might also have something to do with declining property values.

And we had a long talk about accountability last week.

The new sound bite I'm trying out is simple: We Milwaukeeans are paying more for this voucher program that gives us less--less accountability, less for Milwaukee's children, less transparency.

I'd stop there--and I really should, since I've been trying to follow sensei Feldstein's rule--but I was invoked. I laughed through much of Peter's post there, and not only because I am watching "The Office" as I write this. He starts with a quote from this post of mine to "prove" that we want an end to the voucher program. I'm sure Peter's PI license is in the mail . . .

But here are the real laugh lines:
[T]he tax dollars that are being used belong to the taxpayer, not the government. [. . .] All this does is allow the parents to use the portion of their property taxes for education to choose their own children's education.
So, if I give the choice parents each their $1.15 back, will you finally let me start demanding accountability for my tax dollars? You know, as a taxpayer?

Also, there is accountability to the parents: bad Choice schools go out of business.
One, Peter. One school, according to the Public Policy Forum, has closed because parents abandoned it. Why didn't the parents close Northside? Or L.E.A.D.E.R.? Or Academic Solutions? Or Louis Tucker? If it were a true free market, DPI wouldn't have to do the closing.

Quick. Name any monopoly that provides a high quality product at low cost.
I don't have to. This is what we in the business call a straw man: Public schools are not a monopoly. You think private schools didn't exist before the voucher program? You think they won't after the voucher experiment comes to an end?

If the MTEA thinks its product is so exceptional, why do three out of 10 teachers send their children elsewhere?
If private school teachers think their product is so exceptional, why do seven out of 10 teachers send their children to public schools?

The overall MPS graduation rate is 36%, according to Jay Greene, a nationally recognized expert on graduation rates.
Okay, technically, that's Susan Greene's joke, but, I mean, c'mon . . . Jay Greene an "expert"?

In the end, for all of the foaming at the mouth, the right Cheddarsphere can't see past their own biases. They just can't possibly believe that the union has any reason to invest in this fight besides money. As Fraley put it, "for them it's all about jobs and the subsequent union dues." They don't get it. Not even the right ballpark. No one--not even the union people--go into public education for the money. The union provides more professional development to its members than management; the union developed the TEAM program that defeats all conservative stereotypes about "protecting bad teachers." It does nothing without considering the single most important factor in a child's education--the quality of the teacher.

No one, at least not on their side, seems to consider the motives of the Waltons and the Joyces, funding the pro-voucher movement to the tune of tens of millions.

Or consider me: I collect no union dues. It would take a lot of students' leaving MPS before I get laid off. I have no personal investment in this. All I know is what I see in my classroom, and I have seen students fresh out of their voucher schools. Not all of them work miracles, believe me. I've seen my department cut by more than a third as our enrollment inches upward. I've seen my tax bill (Peter hasn't, since he doesn't live in Milwaukee) to know that I'm getting ripped off by a program that requires zero--zero--performance measures to be collected or reported.

Yet and still, I have offered to compromise. Jim Doyle has offered to compromise. The elected officials who represent Milwaukee have offered to compromise. But their side--they want blood. This foaming over MTEA's ad is symptomatic of their desire to get their way, only their way, all the time, because that is their ideology. The Market is King. Compromise is Weakness.

And lost in their struggle to get their feet on our necks is the very real future of 100,000 children in Milwaukee.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shameless Race-Baiting on the Right: Conservatives' True Colors

I will not lie: I would like nothing better than to wake up tomorrow and find that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has vanished in the night. Gone. Kaput. Poof. It has caused headache after headache after headache. It sucks money, investment, and concern right out of the public schools. It is an unregulated, unaccountable, fully opaque shadow system of schooling that is dividing a city and state in two.

And now we know it is more than just divisive; it is bringing out some very, very ugly sides of people who should know better.

Exhibit A: ACE
I wrote last week about the Alliance for Choices in Education ad that was running in Madison and Milwaukee media markets, noting that their target--Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle--was the wrong one to be aiming for. The text of the ad, with an ACE press release, is here (.pdf). I will not re-hash that argument, but note that those ads featured all African-American students questioning Doyle about why he was not lifting the cap on MPCP enrollment.

By itself, the ad is nothing more than misguided and slightly suggestive of the racial undertones that the battle has taken on in the past week. But the ad prompted responses from people as far away as John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, who compared Doyle to former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who literally stood in a school doorway to block integration. This conceit was applauded by conservative bloggers here in Wisconsin, from Owen to the crotchety anti-gubmint school guy to, most lamentably, Peter DiGaudio, who even goes so far as to photoshop Doyle's head on a picture of Wallace in the school doorway. (Note: Peter "hat-tips" Dennis York for the photoshop, but no such photoshopping appears on Dennis York's site and Dennis, in an email, tells me he did make the imgage.)

Exhibit B: Lies
While we're on that post by Peter, note the way he lies about Governor Doyle:
Doyle demands that choice schools take standardized tests with the results being made public; however, Doyle vetoed a bill that did just that in 2003 because WEAC didn't want an objective study [of] choice.
He's half-right, except in his description of the 2003 bill. (This is something Fund mentioned, though keeping his own comments vague enough they were merely misleading, not an outright lie.) That bill, which was passed by Republicans in both houses of the state legislature, and which is mirrored in a new bill proposed by Alberta Darling and Leah Vukmir, would not have required any testing at all, as the voucher schools could easily opt out. It would not have required that any tests given be state tests, either. In addition, it was only a "long-term" study, meaning the state or the DPI could not act on any publicized results for a solid decade.

Owen's post, as well, is misleading:
One man is preventing a better education for thousands of kids.  One man is choosing to close the door of opportunity on thousands of kids for 30 more pieces of silver in his campaign fund from WEAC.  That man is Jim Doyle.
That's also not true, as I've explained before. For two years now, Doyle has been seeking common ground with Republicans who will not compromise. This is not one man standing in the way of the door; this is one man offering to open the door while those who hold the key--legislative Republicans in the majority in Madison--won't unlock it unless it's done on their terms.

Exhibit C: The Sheehy Letter Backlash
Doyle, upset that ACE attacked him, and clearly irked by the racial overtones the debate has been taking on, wrote a letter (.pdf) to ACE board member and Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce president Tim Sheehy (the governor's emphasis, not mine):
Since early last year, I and representatives from my office and my administration have been discussing changes to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program with you. You personally know of my desire to reach a compromise on this issue because I and my staff have discussed it with you many times. It is unfortunate for the children of Milwaukee that you have decided that, rather than work with me on a solution and a compromise, you would rather engage in divisive tactics and push extreme positions that you know I cannot accept. [. . .]

[T]his potential crisis was intentionally precipitated by school voucher lobbyists and Republican legislators. Voucher proponents actively opposed and Republicans defeated a sensible rule put forth by DPI in 2004 that would have protected existing students from having to change schools and allowed currently participating schools to maintain their enrollments. [. . .] They chose to politicize this issue rather put the interests of students first. If you and other voucher advocates had put your effort into honest discussions then we might possibly have solved this issue already. [. . .] I do not support the alternative recently proposed by the Department of Public Instruction, unlike what your dishonest ads imply. [. . .]

As your members wrote in their letter, "Our businesses depend on local schools for an educated workforce." I couldn't agree more. That's one of the many reasons that as Governor, I have strongly supported investments in education. That's also why I am asking for additional help for the children of MPS, not just choice schools. I simply cannot allow the choice program to be expanded at the expense of other public school children in Milwaukee, who under your latest proposal will see further cuts to their schools. We must help both private and public school children But that is obviously not the interest of Republican leaders who care more about having a political issue [. . .].

I hope we can work to resolve this issue without resorting to further dishonest attacks and high-pressure tactics that are divisive and unproductive.
The right Cheddarsphere has blown back with both barrels against this letter (what, Sheehy can't defend himself?). Owen called the letter "vile and vindictive." DiGaudio, who now refers to Doyle as "Governor Wallace" in every post, called the kettle black by saying Doyle had "the petulance of an 8-year-old child throwing a temper tantrum." Jessica McBride writes that a "clearly furious Doyle" wrote a "three-page diatribe." Now, I quoted for you the nastiest parts of Doyle's letter, including all of the lines that McBride, in particular, took exception to. Does that sound nasty to you? I mean, if I started writing like that on a regular basis, my regular readers would wonder who replaced the real folkbum with Mr. Rogers.

What's actually kind of funny, though, is when those conservative bloggers start trying to pick apart Doyle's letter to say that, somehow, he is wrong. I have already tried to set Owen right, at the link above and at this one. But since McBride and DiGaudio do not allow comments, I have to set them straight here. McBride takes umbrage that Doyle would call Sheehy and the ads he helped fund dishonest. She says that's "fighting words, and they are hardly conducive to 'working together to resolve this issue' " (her bold). She doesn't explain if or how Doyle is wrong to say Sheehy and the ACE ad are dishonest, just that it's "a poor political stratagem." In fact, Doyle is not lying to say that the ad is dishonest. The ad says, "Governor Doyle would force up to 4,000 inner-city children to leave their schools." Doyle would do no such thing, and has been actively trying to avoid it. Republicans' rejection of a DPI plan to prevent it is much more the culprit here. And if Sheehy knows--as he should--that Doyle has been talking with him for a long time about how to avoid the crisis, Sheehy shouldn't put his name or his dollars behind an ad that says Doyle is the cause of that crisis.

DiGaudio's critique is even funnier, since he contradicts himself right there on the page: "A solution and a compromise to Doyle is to give WEAC whatever it wants, and we all know WEAC would like the Choice program to go away." Right. So offering to raise the cap and send more students into the choice program is what WEAC wants--the program's disappearance. I don't think you can make that add up, Peter. Keep those posts in mind--McBride's and DiGuadio's--for I will return to them in a moment.

Exhibit D: Sykes
Much of the furor of the last week has been prompted by an ad produced by WTMJ talker Charlie Sykes, with the help of another WTMJ employee (and some community members) using WTMJ facilities and aired repeatedly during Sykes's drive-time show this week. I have not heard the ad; I do not listen to his station and, frankly, don't have any desire to start now while he's smearing Governor Doyle.

The ad, whose text you can read here (linking to Sykes against my better judgment), is, in fact, titled, "GOVERNOR DOYLE, GET OUT OF THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR," making explicit the connection between Doyle and anti-integrationists like Wallace. Sykes uses (and I do not choose that word lightly) African-American students from choice participant Messmer High School, conveniently located less than a mile down the road from WTMJ studios. Beginning with an invocation of Brown vs. Board of Education, the spot goes on to include charged language like, "Let our people go."

The kerfuffle, summed up well by grumps, stems mostly from the supposition, voiced first by Xoff, the the production and airing of this kind of issue ad by WTMJ's parent company might be illegal, and the denizens of the right Cheddarsphere's inability to recognize that the FEC/ FCC rules for broadcast entities like WTMJ are different than for, say, WisPolitics.com. The antics continued this morning on Sykes's "Milwaukee Insight" program on WTMJ television, with essentially the same cast of characters named here making the the same baseless accusations and lies about Governor Doyle (as chronicled by Seth.)

Rather than apologize, as some demanded, for standing up to Sykes and standing up for Doyle, Xoff instead noted that Sykes owes Doyle the apology. I think he's right.

Exhibit E: The Race Card
I haven't jumped in on this up until now, though I've wanted to, because I am so utterly furious at the way the right has portrayed Doyle. It isn't just the outright comparisons between Doyle and anti-integrationists like Wallace, it's also the more explicit language of race-baiting, or of playing the race card. As I pointed out in comments to this Eye on Wisconsin post, Charlie Sykes has been uniformly negative over the years against the race card, and for him to use it so blatantly is a joke and ought to offend everyone of color involved in making his ad. The funders of the school choice movement, as another commenter to that very same post points out, have a long history of also funding some pretty egregious racist activities and organizations. (The evidence is there for anyone with Google to see.)

McBride's post about the Sheehy letter, for example, accuses Doyle of picking a "street fight" with a whole list of sympathetic African American community leaders, including Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Ken Johnson--a man elected to represent the public schools who advocates for the MPS-weakening voucher program whenever he gets the chance. DiGaudio, who just this week complained about Hillary Clinton's use of the word plantation, writes, "Like Simon Legree, the WEAC plantation owners want the poor black children to remain uneducated slaves, prisoner to its curriculum of low expectations and inferior education." These righty bloggers do everything but come right out and say, "Jim Doyle hates black people."

This is why I've wanted to jump in. It's because I know Gus Doyle, one of Governor Doyle's two sons.

I went to college with Gus, and, because he was a couple of years ahead of me, I did not know him well. But on a campus as small as ours, you pretty much at least knew of everybody, particularly prominent upperclassmen. This was in 1992, so Jim Doyle was already Wisconsin's attorney general, so everyone also knew that Gus was the AG's son. But because I knew Gus Doyle before I knew Jim Doyle, I was very surprised the first time I saw a picture of Jim Doyle. Surprised that Jim Doyle was white. Because Gus Doyle was black.

I can't imagine what it feels like to be Gus Doyle, one of two African-American boys adopted by the Doyles, to hear and read and see pundits and wannabes all around calling your father a racist. Comparing your father to George Wallace and Simon Legree.

Jim Doyle has done a much better job than I would have in that situation. As much as McBride and her posse may think that Doyle has somehow lost it, I believe he has been remarkably restrained. He is sticking to his guns, by proposing a reasonable compromise plan to avert the coming crisis in the choice plan.

It is the right--the bloggers and newspaper columnists and radio personalities--who have taken this to the level of outrage. I mean, even in saying that Sykes's radio ad may have been illegal, Xoff didn't call Sykes a criminal or use any other adjective to describe him except "proud"--proud that he could run a commercial comparing Doyle to racist southern governors. It is the right who are showing their true colors.