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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

JFC Stupidity

The Snacilbupers in Madison are at it again with their backwards thinking. Two stories from the Joint Finance Committee today:

Problem: Wisconsin has a budget deficit
Republican Solution: Cut the state's tipping fee. What's a tipping fee, you ask? It's the per-ton fee that we charge out-of-state garbage haulers:
The tipping fee charged for each ton of garbage dumped in a landfill pays for state grants that counties and municipalities use to defray the cost of state-required local recycling programs.

"I'm not sure how much longer we can justify being in the recycling business," [State Sen. Scott] Fitzgerald said of the grants and the mandate to local governments. [. . .] "If local governments want to continue their programs, that's great, but I don't feel that it's something we should be engaged in at the state level." [. . .]

Rich Eggleston, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities, said that although the state requires local governments to operate or participate in recycling programs, state grants cover only about 30% of the costs of those programs. "It costs money to keep that stuff out of landfills," he said. "The idea of reducing the tipping fees at the same time that we have an underfunded mandate is mind-boggling."

Sen. Russ Decker (D-Schofield), a committee member who voted against cutting the tipping fee, said the cost of dumping garbage in Wisconsin already is lower than the cost in neighboring states, and that cutting the fee would bring more waste from other states here. [. . .] Caryl Terrell, Wisconsin chapter director of the Sierra Club, said last year that 36% of all the garbage dumped in Wisconsin landfills came from other states. Cutting the tipping fee would only be a signal to send more, she said.
I can see the new state slogan now: Wisconsin--Wastebin of America! The ads write themselves.

But seriously, if we have issues with the revenue stream--and our $1.6 billion deficit would seem to indicate that we do--it is insane to cut revenues, even if it's only a few million bucks. Worse, for all the anti-tax hysteria the Snacilbupers have been spreading, this cut in revenue doesn't actually put more money into the pockets of a single Wisconsin citizen. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And I won't even touch the unfunded mandate mess . . .

Problem: Wisconsin ranks last in the graduation rate for African American high school students
Republican Solution: Eliminate the Chapter 220 program, which provides integration for Milwaukee suburbs and a significantly higher graduation rate for black students who participate:
Getting rid of Chapter 220 would mark the end of the state's "oldest and most successful choice program," says Demond Means, interim co-superintendent of the Wauwatosa School District, which has consistently been the biggest participant in the program.

"I think it's been successful for kids, academically and culturally," Means says. "If those issues aren't enough, there's also the financial impact. The fact of the matter is Chapter 220 aid is in essence property tax relief." [. . .]

Without the revenue that comes with bringing Chapter 220 students into the district, homeowners in Wauwatosa could expect property taxes to increase by about 15.5% to make up for the loss of about $4 million, according to Wauwatosa School District business manager John Mack. To the owner of a $200,000 home, that's about $235 more a year, Mack says. There would be an additional property tax increase of about 7.2% the next year because Wauwatosa would lose another $2.8 million in revenue because of the loss of students counted under the state's equalization aid formula, he says. [Aid is based on a three-year rolling average, meaning cuts in aid three years running for participating districts.]

Chapter 220 was designed to be a "sweet deal" to encourage suburban districts to accept minority children, said Anneliese Dickman, senior researcher at the Public Policy Forum of Milwaukee. [. . .]

Though specific comparison data on Chapter 220 students isn't readily available, Whitefish Bay Schools District Administrator James Rickabaugh says there is one piece of "absolute, uncontestable" data that shows Chapter 220 is beneficial for student participants.

The graduation rate for Chapter 220 students is "very comparable" to resident students in the districts they attend, Rickabaugh says. That was supported by a survey conducted by the Public Policy Forum and included in a report published in 2003.

The survey says that when asked about their post-graduation plans, 75% of the Chapter 220 students planned on going to a four-year college or university.
Does the program cost money? You betcha. But even a cursory analysis shows that the program is doing more for participating students than some voucher schools I could name. And in terms of return-on-investment, the fact that 220 students excel, graduate, and pursue college at a rate far higher than their peers tells me it's working.

And once again, we see the anti-tax hysteria that propels Snacilbupers into office being ignored when it's time to make policy.

If you want, you can follow Joint Finance Committee nuttiness at the WisPolitics JFC blog (found via Mike).

Monday, May 30, 2005

More (Memorial) Music Monday: Dave Carter's "Hey Ho"

Dave Carter was undoubtedly one of the best songwriters of the present generation. Struck down by a heart attack in mid-2002, he died both in his prime and in the midst of preparing a new album of songs to record with his musical and life partner, Tracy Grammer.

According to Tracy, this song is the last song Dave Carter completed, finished in that summer of 2002 when the country was sinking into Afghanistan and beating the drums for war in Iraq. Remember that almost all of our dead men and women in Iraq have been under 30 . . .
Hey Ho

tv’s on, the favorite son is
watchin how the west was won
daddy, please, a plastic gun
get brother one for twice the fun

little camo helmet-heads
makin brave and playin dead
missiles made of gingerbread
dollars on the dime
hey ho, so it goes, the point of sale, the puppet show
the merchant kings of war and woe have turned their hands to labor
sound out the trumpet noise, the cannons bark and jump for joy
someone’s dread and darlin boy has fallen on his saber
another world across the sea
home for little busy bees
sweatin in some factory
hurry, please, more of these

action dolls with laser sights
robot planes that shoot at night
faster, kid, and get it right
they’re rollin down the line
hey ho, so it goes, the point of sale, the puppet show
the merchant kings of war and woe have turned their hands to labor
sound out the trumpet noise, the cannons bark and jump for joy
someone’s dread and darlin boy has fallen on his saber
these days the spin machine
is always on the silver screen
secret plots and submarines
foreign fiends and magazines

wave the flag, watch the news
tell us we can count on you
mom and dad are marchin too
children, step in time
hey ho, so it goes, the point of sale, the puppet show
the merchant kings of war and woe have turned their hands to labor
sound out the trumpet noise, the cannons bark and jump for joy
someone’s dread and darlin boy has fallen on his saber
bring your kids and coddled pets
bouncin babes in bassinets
we’ll play a game with tanks and jets
better yet – bayonets!

marchin bands and color guards
funerals in your own backyard
don’t forget your credit card –
johnny, hold the line
hey ho, so it goes, the point of sale, the puppet show
the merchant kings of war and woe have turned their hands to labor
sound out the trumpet noise, the cannons bark and jump for joy
someone’s dread and darlin boy has fallen on his saber
© Dave Carter / Dave Carter Music (BMI) administered by Tracy Grammer Music
You can find more information about the life and legacy of Dave Carter, as well as keep up with what Tracy Grammer is doing.

My (Memorial) Music Monday

Yesterday, Susie Madrak posted the lyrics to Phil Ochs's "I Ain't Marching Anymore." While I'm typically not a copycat, I wanted to reprint it here, with the additional lyrics that I added to my own performances of the song after 9/11, which I've indicated in bold:
Oh, I marched to the battle of New Orleans,
At the end of the early British wars.
The young land started growing,
The young blood started flowing.
But I ain’t a-marching anymore!

Oh I killed my share of Injuns in a thousand different fights,
I was there at the Little Big Horn.
I heard many men a-lying,
I saw many more a-dying.
But I ain’t a-marching anymore!
It's always the young to lead us to the wars,
always the young to fall.
Now look at what we've won with a saber and a gun.
Tell me is it worth it all?
For I stole California from the Mexican land,
fought in the bloody Civil War.
Yes, I even killed my brothers,
And so many others.
But I ain’t a-marching anymore!

For I marched to the battle of the German trench,
In a war that was bound to end all wars.
Oh I must have killed a million men,
And now they want me back again
But I ain’t a-marching anymore!
It's always the young to lead us to the wars,
always the young to fall.
Now look at what we've won with a saber and a gun.
And tell me is it worth it all?
For I flew the final mission in the Japanese skies
Set off the mighty mushroom roar
But I saw the cities burnin’,
And I knew that I was learnin’,
That I ain’t a-marching anymore!

I was shell-shocked in Korea, napalmed in Viet Nam,
I was poisoned in the Persian Gulf War
I tired of police action,
To quell the other faction,
And I ain’t a-marching anymore!
It's always the young to lead us to the wars,
always the young to fall.
Now look at what we've won with a saber and a gun.
Tell me is it worth it all?
Now the wars of our past have brought the terror home,
By those who would seek to settle scores

Call it peace or call it treason,
Call it love or call it reason
but I ain’t a-marching anymore!
I ain’t a-marching anymore!

Memorial Monday: Stark Truths

Fellow Milwaukeean Cream City, a history prof, put togther some sobering numbers for one of her classes just before the Iraq War started. She shares them with us in her dKos diary, American Wars of Our Lifetime: Stark Truths. It is a must-read for today.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Wal*Marting of Wisconsin

I did not write anything about this last week, when the study came out, but Wisconsin looked at its BadgerCare program, which is designed to provide health insurance to the working poor. Turns out, 40% of the people enrolled in BadgerCare from the 10 biggest employers with employees in the program worked at Wal*Mart.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the news lately. As I have noted before, an average Wal*Mart store with 200 employees costs the federal government $420,750 annually. With over 100 stores in Wisconsin, our taxpayers are subsidizing Wal*Mart to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars. Now we find that Wal*Marts across the state are also costing Wisconsin taxpayers $2 million a year in BadgerCare costs alone. Add in other tax subsidies specific to Wal*Mart, on top of the state's already-low taxes on business, and you can see that Wal*Mart is quite the leech.

Wisconsin lawmakers seem to be catching on:
Lawmakers must fill a $650 million funding gap in Medicaid over the next two years. They said part of the discussion on bridging that gap is expected to be aimed at changing BadgerCare, the health care program for low-income families. [. . .]

Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-[Sun Prairie]) said BadgerCare reforms "certainly will be part of the budget discussion." Rep. Scott Jensen (R-Town of Brookfield) added that the goal would be to "undo the financial incentive" for companies to push workers on BadgerCare. "You could require that by saying companies with a health insurance plan with and certain means would have to pay toward the premium," Jensen said. [. . .]

As long as BadgerCare provides cheaper coverage than what many companies can offer, the program is more than the option of last choice, Rep. Kitty Rhoades (R-Hudson) said. "We didn't set out to become an insurance company," Rhoades said.
Now, to be fair, the Wal*Mart employees and dependents are only about 1.5% of all BadgerCare recipients, and those receiving BadgerCare represent only 3% of Wal*Mart employees in the state. (A fellow Milwaukeean has done this math for all of the top ten.) Yet, it seems unfathomable to me that a company with nearly $300 billion in revenue can't afford the $2 million (or less--BadgerCare cuts off if your employer covers 80% of your costs) to cover their workers here. Even extrapolated across the country, $100 or $200 million for health care wouldn't kill them.

But let us also recall that this is a bigger problem than just Wal*Mart. There are other companies on that list--even Aurora Health Care, for pete's sake--and not all of them are evil incarnate. The fact is, the root of the problem is our too-expensive system of insuring and caring for people. The U.S. spends more than double what any other industrialized country does on health care, without double the results (read every word at that link--it's worth the time). It's like a team with the New York Yankees' payroll consistently getting beaten by the Milwaukee Brewers. I firmly believe that if it were cheaper for employers to provide health care, more would. I also firmly believe that as long as the state (and the State) refuses to take action to cut costs, employers will find ways to pass those costs on to the state.

This is one reason why a couple of weeks ago, I argued for rethinking the minimum wage. So what if we can pay people a little more, if they don't get health care and the state has to subsidize them through BadgerCare? (A full-time worker at $8.50 an hour still qualifies for BadgerCare.) There is no advantage to that. We need comprehensive economic reform, with the needs of the worker superceding the needs of business. After all, business certainly isn't, in general, looking out for their employees anymore. We need to bring back strong unions, affordable health care, and tax policies that reward work rather than wealth. The $100 billion Walton family doesn't want for health care, and I bet they pay a lower percentage of their net worth in taxes than I do, or your average BadgerCare recipient.

Let me be clear: I think Wal*Mart needs to be paying more of its fair share. But I also think that it is incumbent upon the state and federal governments to make it easier for Wal*Mart to do that, and for Wal*Mart's workers to afford to live on a Wal*Mart salary. As long as we sit on our hands--or spin our wheels chasing distractions--the health care gap will widen, the wealth gap will widen, and the economic powerhouse that is the United States will keep collapsing from the inside.

(For more on Wal*Mart's evilness, see everything here.)


This has to be one of the signs of the apocalypse. Has to be.

Tax Freeze/ TABOR

What he said, about Scott Walker and Milwaukee County.

What they said, about TABOR.

That is all. For now.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Happy Etc.

Two years ago today, I started this blog. For the first, oh, 1 7/8 years, it wasn't very good. For the last 1/16 of a year, it hasn't been very good, either. There was a small slice in there where I think I was all that, back when I was writing about David Horowitz. We're off soon for a celebratory meal and viewing of that one movie everyone's been talking about. Something about stars, I think, so it must be about Carl Sagan.

One year ago, I feted myself and I was named Political Site of the Day by the nice folks at About Politics (an honor recently bestowed upon fellow Milwaukeean Stacie!). Clearly they overestimated my importance.

I have met, at least on-line if not in real life (we have to get the gang together sometime!) lots of great Milwuakee bloggers, and lots of great folk from around the country. My faith in the country comes back a little bit every time I trip through blogtopia (y!sctp!). Thanks, all.

Sometime in November, Blogger stopped keeping statistics (they've been promising to bring the feature back, but, what do you want for a free service? Anyway, they have me down for about 125,000 words. I would guess that I've added several-score thousand more. And given what I've written at my other blogging homes, I can guesstimate over 200,000 total. Anyway, as you can see from my traffic graph there, I have fully recovered from my post-election hiatus, and I'm now at my highest traffic levels ever. Again, I have to question people's judgment. Oh, but not yours. You are smart, and are obviously here by mistake.

Anyway, after all of this, I would just like to thank you for your patronage and so forth. As a reward for you, I am giving you all what you have been clamoring for all along: A non-blurry picture of me:

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friday Random Ten

The Happy Blogiversary to Me (Tomorrow) edition

1. "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" Neil Young from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
2. "Hold On" David Gray from Lost Songs
3. "After Yesterday" John Gorka from After Yesterday
4. "Answering Bell" Ryan Adams from Gold
5. "Misery & Happiness" Susan Werner from New Non-Fiction
6. "Bean Time" Leo Kottke from Live
7. "The New Kid" Old 97s from Drag it Up
8. "Closer to You" Carrie Newcomer from My Father's Only Son
9. "A Bend in the River" Mark Erelli from Hillbilly Pilgrim
10. "America" Simon and Garfunkel from The Best Of

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Walker: Tosa Ranger has a rigorous schedule this week doing the hard work of the Milwaukee County Executive. From the "Walker Weekly" in my inbox:
Busy Week Ahead

Scott will be on the road visiting several Wisconsin communities in the days ahead. In the next week, look for him in Green Bay for Taste of Broadway, Burlington at Chocolate Fest, Tomah for their Sesquicentennial festivities and Onalaska where he and local volunteers will be enjoying Sunfish Days. He's likely to make some unscheduled stops along the way and will also be at events in Berlin and Madison in the coming week, as well. On Monday, the Executive will officially preside over several parades and Memorial Day observances in Milwaukee County.
So, nothing in Milwaukee County except parades, eh? Can I get some kind of rebate on my part of his salary for this week? At the very least, can he bring me back some chocolate?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I'm going to Mexico

Mid-June, I'll be out of the country. I figure I can either invite a guest poster for the week, or buy the AutoBlogger. Email me if you're interested.

[UPDATE]: Plus, Saturday is my two-year blogiversary. I'm looking for celebratory ideas. Anyone?

Follow-up LTE (see post below)

To the editors:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board has been a constant champion of the "reformers" on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. You endorsed them and praised their takeover in elections this spring. It seems, though, that you editors need to read the stories your reporters have written.

The only real reforms the "reformers" have demonstrated to date? A disregard for democratic process and unfettered power-grabs.

Your newspaper reported on all of this, beginning with new Board President Ken Johnson's sickening politics in handing out committee assignments ("School Board president denies posts to opponents," May 6):
  • Danny Goldberg, who enriched himself through MPS's contracts with the school-reform organization he founded, TALC, now chairs the School Reform committee;
  • Barbara Horton, the executive director of a voucher school that siphons money from MPS classrooms, chairs the Finance committee;
  • Peter Blewitt, Jennifer Morales, and Charlene Hardin, who did not support Johnson in the vote for president, each have just one committee assignment;
  • Goldberg, whose Board experience is zero, has as many committee assignments as Blewitt, Morales, and Hardin combined, despite the latter three's extensive years of service to MPS students and parents.

Now this week we find your newspaper reporting on Johnson's plan to silence opposition to the "reformers" at Board meetings ("Speech rule sparks School Board split," May 24). At what point will the editors realize that these "reformers" are much more concerned with their own power and not at all interested in the people they were elected to represent?

Your humble
Are we laying odds that they'll print it? I've got ten bucks on "no."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Teaching Tuesday: Here's what your "reform" has brought

(Welcome, Rox Populi readers! This post may confuse you if you don't know Milwaukee school politics. Currently, our school board has a majority that supports Milwaukee's private-school vouchers, in part because the daily paper calls them "reformers" and national pro-voucher groups flood Milwaukee with money every election. I also recommend last week's "Teaching Tuesday" if you get the chance.)

Drunk with power, the "reform" wing of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors has decided to silence the opposition:
This month, newly elected board President Kenneth Johnson sent out two memos telling board members to limit themselves to two speeches on any issue at monthly board meetings, and to limit those speeches to two minutes apiece. [. . .]

Member Jennifer Morales loudly protested the memos last week at a board meeting, and in an interview, she argued that the constrictions would stifle the democratic process. [. . .] "On a body of nine people, it seems really ridiculous to say we can't have as much opportunity to speak as we need to."

Morales sent a letter to Johnson last week, slamming his proposal to limit members to two speeches.

"I believe that the board is capable of reducing the length of board meetings," she writes. "However, this should be accomplished through self reflection by each member on whether a particular comment (and its length) adds something meaningful to the discussion or merely prolongs it."

Johnson replied with his memo that says he also planned to cut speeches off at two minutes. "None of this is anything I invented. This is all in the board rules," he says. Johnson points to a clause limiting members of the public to two minutes in their speeches, and he says the same should be applied to board members.
I just don't even know where to start with this. Yes, it's infamously true that board meetings often last until the wee hours of the morning, but when we're talking about the governance of the state's largest school district, it doesn't seem unreasonable that debate should take time. It's not enough that the public--parents, students, teachers, community folk--get cut off at two minutes; now the "reformer" majority wants to silence those whom the public elects to speak for them, as well.

It's not enough that "reformer" Johnson was elected without debate, and it's not enough that "reformer" Johnson played the worst kind of petty politics handing out committee assignments (it's just coincidence, I'm sure, how Danny Goldberg, enriched by the district's "innovation," now chairs the "Innovation/ School Reform" committee). Now "reformer" Johnson wants to stick his fingers in his ears and pretend that no one exists but those who hold the same opinions as he does. I guess he does have good role models for this sort of thing in Madison Republicans . . .

The very newspaper reporting this tyranny gushed over the "reformers", repeatedly. I wonder if this abrogation of democratic principals would change their opinion on the "reformer" wing of the board? Or is that too much to ask?

Anyway, here is the contact info for the board. And, yes, those are home numbers. Be nice. Your focus should be on Johnson, Dannecker, Horton, Spence, and Goldberg.

And, if you'd like, let the paper know what kind of "reform" they have championed.


Monday, May 23, 2005

The Deal

'Tis done.

I'm still mostly ambivalent; I don't like Brown, and Owen and Pryor, while evil, will not significantly alter the make-up of the courts they will join. On the other hand, all the signatories--Republicans included--have sworn a blood oath to oppose rules changes of the sort that Frist called "nuclear."

And, hey, if this guy hates it, it must be good, eh?

McIlheran Monday: Conscience This

Sorry this had to wait until today; this is partly because I'm busy, and partly because Patrick McIlheran's latest abomination seems not to be available on-line (really--scroll down, click the link, and you'll get a 404 error). Perhaps the Journal-Sentinel web team saw what I did to David Gelernter, and voted not to make the article available. Sadly, I still pay them for their Sunday coupons, so I was able to soil my hands with his column.

It's titled "Yes, pharmacists have--and can use--a conscience." He's referring to Wisconsin Senate Bill 155 (.pdf), the bill that prohibits discrimination against pharmacists who won't dispense The Pill, and absolves them of any liability for their decision not to do their jobs. For more information see Planned Parenthood.

Anyway, McIlheran starts with what has to be the World's Most Labored Analogy: If you were working at Home Depot (I'm paraphrasing), would you sell a white supremacist ingredients for a flaming cross? To be fair, this is only barely more labored than the unconvincing analogies I've heard on my side--the vegan waitress refusing to take your order for steak, for example. But both of these analogies demonstrate just how far away from the central, frightening point of this discussion both sides are straying.

McIlheran wants you to think he finally gets to the meat, though:
Two bills--one on the Senate, one in the Assembly--state it explicitly: Employers and state regulators wouldn't be able to make a pharmacist dispense a drug he [or she?--ed] believes will be used with the purpose of causing an abortion.

In practice, it's called "emergency contraception": after-the-fact birth control, a high dose of birth-control hormones, usually within three to five days of sex [or following a rape, where emergency contraceptive is SOP--ed]. In at least one Milwaukee case [link mine--ed], the state's investigating a pharmacist who wouldn't fill such a prescription. [. . .]

Neither bill, remember, contains the least syllable about barring anyone from getting any emergency contraception or from distributing it. All they say is that you can't force a pharmacist to be the one to sell it.
Notice what's missing in those paragraphs, and, if you read the whole of the column, what's missing throughout: McIlheran talks about emergency contraception, but ignores the primary thrust of the bill, which is to enable pharmacists to deny women just plain old regular birth control pills, too. There's an elephant in the room, Pat, and it's standing on your common sense.

Before you go any further, please go read the actual bill (.pdf). The bill itself does not distinguish between The Pill and Plan B. It kind of makes me wonder if McIlheran actually read the bill, or merely pro-life press releases about it, since he also seems to lack further understanding of the realities of the bill--but more on that later.

Let us remember that The Pill is one of the single most-often prescribed medications in this country. Moreover, a significant number of girls and women take The Pill less for its birth-control effects and more for its other health benefits. In other words, pharmacists are now being given license to substitute their judgment for that of a woman's doctor. And I do mean judgment: There is no regulation in the bill that requires pharmacists to refuse treatment equally. They can decide that a 19-year-old unmarried woman has no business being on The Pill, but that a 35-year-old housewife with five kids can take it. That truly is the equivalent of practicing medicine without a license.

McIlheran continues, in blissful ignorance of the true intent and eventual ramifications of this bill:
The practical answer for those who want their morning-after pills would seem to be simple, in that two of the four corners at your typical urban Wisconsin intersection are occupied by competing drugstores: Go to another pharmacy.
The two Wisconsin cases that have made this bill worthy of scrutiny (the one linked above and the Noesen case) both involved something that this bill does not prohibit: Pharmacists refused to transfer or give back the prescription. Again, McIlheran is living in the land of make-believe, since we know that these pharmacists are not going to say, "Oh, you know, let me just get Fred over here." Among the leaders in the Dark Side's fight is "Pharmacists for Life," who are unequivocal in their stance:
Brauer, of Pharmacists for Life, defends the right of pharmacists not only to decline to fill prescriptions themselves but also to refuse to refer customers elsewhere or transfer prescriptions.

"That's like saying, 'I don't kill people myself but let me tell you about the guy down the street who does.' What's that saying? 'I will not off your husband, but I know a buddy who will?' It's the same thing," said Brauer, who now works at a hospital pharmacy.
And yet, to hear McIlheran or other pro-lifers speaking of the bill--and I did hear one one the radio, while stuck in Marquette Interchange traffic last week--pharmacies will make certain to have someone else who can fill the prescription, or those nice pro-life pharmacists will kindly tell you where to go to get your Pill. And yet there are no such provisions in the bill passed by the Senate this week--nothing about requiring pharmacies to have someone willing to fill it or about making the pharmacist release the hostage prescription.

Besides, this is a bill that addresses only medicine taken by women. Your pharmacist can still be fired or fined for refusing to dispense Viagra, for example. It boils down to, in the end, further enervation for the crowd that can't get enough of controlling sex and women's access to it. This is the nut of the issue--no pun intended. Certain people have hang-ups about sex, and any tool they can find to add to their toolbox of denial is fair game. McIlheran, perhaps unwittingly, is a tool, too; maybe he honestly doesn't see this agenda at play, and really believed the pro-lifers/ anti-sexers when they said this was all just about Plan B, and women are guaranteed their prescriptions, anyway.

Full disclosure: My father is a pharmacist. We have not talked about his stance on this kind of bill; for one, he and I don't talk politics, as a rule. For another, he works in a different state and, for that matter, in a hospital, where The Pill is probably not in high demand. After watching my dad's grueling work my whole life, I have nothing but respect for these men and women who have to keep track of an absurdly vast store of knowledge and, in the case of the folks down at Walgreen's, have to put up with all manner of crazies. But their sole and only responsibility is to act as the dictates of a patient's doctor, and the science of pharmacology related to patient safety, determine. It is not theirs to stick up for zygotic life. It is not theirs to deny women legal medicine. It is not theirs to impose their victorian view of sex upon the rest of us.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

National Pervert Radio?

Or WUWM, Whose Undies Were Manifest?

The real story is, of course, Robyn Cherry's concern: Why is there a majority-blonde radio station in the heart of a majority-minority city?

But what people will remember are the salacious bits:
[A] state agency investigated the complaint by Robyn Cherry and ruled this month there was probable cause to bring the matter to a hearing, not a small accomplishment considering the agency gave only about one-third of the 1,764 complaints received last year the green light for a hearing.

Cherry, the only African-American employed by the station, filed the complaint with the state's Equal Rights Division because she claimed she was passed over for promotion and her on-air time was limited because of her race. In addition, she says she must follow rules and restrictions not imposed on others. [. . .]

Not only is WUWM lily white, but Cherry and her lawyer, Nola Hitchcock Cross, contend only a certain kind of Caucasian will feel at home there.

"Of the 21 non-managerial employees, 17 are female and, of those, 11 are blond," Cross wrote in a letter to investigators last year. "Indeed the only person of color on the station is Robyn Cherry." [. . .]

The station, whose reporters make a living gathering comments, declined to comment. First we tried Bob Bach, local host during the popular "Morning Edition" show.

Cross' letter to the state charges that Bach has been caught using state-owned computers to surf the Web for porn sites featuring women, with some of the sites focusing on black women. Cross backs up her assertion with a signed statement from Joshua Sather, the station's information technologies specialist.

"While trouble-shooting in response to a system problem, the IT Specialist found that Mr. Bach had a work time history of surfing the Web to visit a list of pornography sites," Cross wrote.
Good thing for them they wrapped up their spring pledge drive yesterday before this came out, eh?

Mornings, I've been listening more often to Joy Cardin on WHAD, anyway, having already got the news I would have heard from Morning Edition on the internet. Since Bob Edwards left, it has hardly been worth it anyway.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Saturday, and I'm speechless

I probably have a post in me somewhere. I mean, I even had yesterday off of school to think of stuff to write.

So, I'll just post some information, from Harry Reid's office, for those of you who can't fathom why Democrats would want to filibuster Priscilla Owen. It has nothing to do with being contrary or mere Bush-hate; it has everything to do with her bing a bad judge:

In case after case involving a variety of legal issues, the judicial record of Justice Priscilla Owen shows her to be a judicial activist, willing to make law from the bench rather than follow the language and intent of the legislature. 

She has demonstrated this tendency most clearly in a series of dissents in cases involving a Texas law providing for a judicial bypass of parental notification requirements for minors seeking abortions.  She sought to erect barriers that did not exist in the statute.

In addition to cases dealing with parental notification, Justice Owen¹s activism and extremism is noteworthy in a variety of cases, including those dealing with business interests, malpractice, access to public information, employment discrimination and Texas Supreme Court jurisdiction, in which she rules against individual plaintiffs time and time again.

Priscilla Owen's position as a frequent dissenter on the Texas Supreme Court filled with Republican appointees highlights her activist bent, showing how far from the language of the statute she strays in her attempts to push the law beyond what the legislature intended.

Criticisms of her dissents by the majority include the following, unusual in legal writing for their harsh tone:
  • In FM Properties v. City of Austin, the majority calls her dissent, "nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric."
  • In Montgomery Independent School District v. Davis, the majority (which included Alberto Gonzales and two other Bush appointees) is quite explicit about its view that Owen's position disregards the law, saying that "nothing in the statute requires" what she says it does, and that, "the dissenting opinion's misconception . . . stems from its disregard of the procedural elements the Legislature established," and that the, "dissenting opinion not only disregards the procedural limitations in the statute but takes a position even more extreme than that argued for by the board. . ."
  • In In re Jane Doe, the majority includes an extremely unusual section explaining its view of the proper role of judges, admonishing the dissent joined by Justice Owen for going beyond its duty to interpret the law in an attempt to fashion policy, and in a separate concurrence, Justice Alberto Gonzales says that to the construe law as the dissent did, "would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism."
  • In Weiner v. Wasson, in what reads as a lecture to the dissent, then-Justice John Cornyn (now Senator Cornyn) explains stare decisis on behalf of the majority, in language that would be used with a beginning law student.
  • In In re Jane Doe 3, Justice Enoch writes specifically to rebuke Owen and her follow dissenters for misconstruing the legislature's definition of the sort of abuse that may occur when parents are notified of a minor's intent to have an abortion, saying, "abuse is abuse; it is neither to be trifled with nor its severity to be second guessed."

Priscilla Owen's record on money-related ethical issues is more troubling than her colleagues' (who also receive campaign contributions) because her money comes from a small group of special business interests, who advance clear anti-consumer and anti-choice agendas, and her record has shows that her donors enjoy greater success before her than before the majority of the Court.

She has repeatedly presided over cases involving law firms or litigants who contributed substantially to her election campaigns, failing to either disclose such contributions to the parties before her or disqualify herself. Although disclosure or recusal is not required under controlling Texas law, Owen's failure to disclose indicates that she lacks the moral and ethical commitment to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

She made dismissive comments on an important ethical issue, the "clerk perk" scandal, again indicating a lack of concern for ethical issues and the independence of the judiciary.  She dismissed the important ethical and criminal misconduct issues raised by the fact that the Court's law clerks were receiving bonuses from their future law firm employers, who regularly argue cases before the Court, as merely "a political issue that is being dressed up as a good government issue" and urged the legislature to make these unethical bonuses legal.
Is this worth going "nuclear" over? I say, yes.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bashing Walker: Tosa Ranger

Bill Christofferson, over at the Xoff Files (I'm still waiting for complaints that he's taken the Christ out of Christofferson), answers the age-old question: Why does he bash Scott Walker?

Oh, there are so many reasons . . . And Bill gives quite a few. I will highlight just one:
[The complaint] came after a posting I did this week about Walker's hypocritical letter to his county corporation counsel. Walker chastised William Domina for sending one political e-mail offering to help on a school referendum,, when Walker himself had sent hundreds of e-mails from the county system urging a "yes" vote on the pension referendum.

I didn't write about that because I'm afraid Walker will be the [Republican gubernotorial] nominee. I wrote it because Walker painted a target on his chest and offered a free shot. It's an example of how bashable he is. Who could resist?

The Domina affair was so good that the Journal Sentinel's Laurel Walker(no relation, I guess), a columnist in the paper's Waukesha bureau, couldn't resist it, either. The last I knew she was not a Doyle operative. And she laid it on pretty well. Read for yourself.
I also bash Scott Walker, but I don't get complaints. What does it take? I mean, over the years, I have implied that he is racist, I called him a liar, and I compared him to Tom DeLay. I even harrassed him on his own blog. What's a boy gotta do to get a whine from the Ranger?

I guess I'd better kick it up a notch.

I'm totally doing this

We need a liberal voice in Milwaukee Radio, right?

Friday Random Ten

The I Have Today Off and You Don't Edition
(or, the oddly live edition . . .)

1. "Fishin' for Pity" The Common Faces from Gimme Live
2. "Dust My Broom" Chris Smither from Chris Smither Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop
3. "Wasted" Martin Sexton from Martin Sexton Live at Gathering of the Vibes
4. "February" Dar Williams from Mortal City
5. "Beautiful Valley" Don Conoscenti from Extremely Live at Eddie's Attic
6. "Jack the Giant Killer" The Nields from Live From Northampton
7. "Autobiography of a Pistol" Ellis Paul from Live
8. "Down and Dirty" Shannon McNally from Live at the World Cafe Handcrafted
9. "Soulful Shade of Blue" Neko Case from The Tigers Have Spoken
10. "If I Had a Rocket launcher" Bruce Cockburn from Anything Anytime Anywhere

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Coolest Site Ever

Via Scott, I have found It's billed as way to keep track of your congresscritters, updated daily. You can even subscribe to an RSS feed for your critter.

I've been reading up on Wisconsin's critters. Congress is a lot boringer than you might expect.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Wisconsin Wednesday: Heads Firmly Up Behinds Edition

At the end of my last post, I joked that the legislature was dropping voter ID to deal with some of the real, important issues around the state. Hah! We're talking about Snacilbupers here! So much to choose from, so little time . . .

Remember that pesky little lawsuit demanding equal rights, by way of equal partner benefits? Guess who the Republicans in the legislature asked to take the anti side, here? If you guessed the Alliance Defense Fund, you'd be right! Who is the Alliance Defense Fund? Well, it was founded by James Dobson. Dobson's been in the news lately, you may recall, for hating on Spongebob and having Bill Frist by the short hairs.

The list of atrocities ADF has been involved in is too long to do in full. I'll hit the lowlights:

And so on. For more information, read Rolling Stone and People for the American Way. Then, contact your legislator and ask, politely, that your tax dollars not be spent on these bigots.

The ADF incident almost makes the second half of my post palatable. Today a state senate committee passed, on a party-line vote, the bill that allows pharmacists to choose not to fill prescriptions for birth control, Plan B, and other contraceptive devices. The bill does not require that the pharmacist transfer the prescription, nor does it require that every pharmacy have someone on staff to to fill it.

My friend Stacie took on this issue, and made many good points. You can add to her arguments such gaping holes in the bill as no prohibition against pharmacists applying their consciences unequally, granting birth control to married women but not to single women, for example.

What eats me up most is something Matt Sande said on Ben Merens's show this afternoon (love that traffic). He's the director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, the organization that lobbied for and won this bill--no medical associations or organizations anywhere in the state asked for this. He kept describing how other medical professionals had protections--surgeons aren't forced to do abortions, for example--and all they want is for "special" rights for these pharmacists not to have to do their jobs.

I remember back in the day when it was a bad thing when people asked for "special" rights. IOKIYAR all around, eh?

Wisconsin Wednesday: Vote Fraud Update

While we all are still holding our breaths for more arrests in the voter fraud mess--as well as real leadership from Madison Republicans on the issue--I thought I would provide a brief summary of some of the fraud-related stuff lately. After a couple of very long posts in the last week, though, I will not be offering much in the way of commentary. I'm a little blogged out.

For starters, Greg Borowski last Sunday laid out the problems and the potential solutions in a simple, easy-to-read format. I clearly can't quote the whole thing, but note, as you read, how often Borowski cites J-Dizzle's election reform plan, followed by Republicans saying, "That seems like something we should pursue."

The Wonder Twins--Walker: Tosa Ranger and Mark (Insert Nickname Here) Green--are planning to make their right to suppress your vote a key campaign issue.

Two smart perspectives on the issue of voter ID. The first from Milwaukee's Gregory Stanford:
Take the argument that, to cash a check at a bank, you need a photo ID, so surely you can show such a card to vote. The counterargument goes like so: Those who lack a photo ID can't and don't cash checks at banks, and that's OK. But are you saying that it's also OK that they be denied the fundamental American right to vote?

The retort shows how the situations are not parallel. Voting is a fundamental right; cashing a check is not. [. . .]

You might then shift the debate to the true common feature in the various ID scenarios: Each entails a balancing act. You have to weigh the good you are pursuing against any harm a photo ID rule might cause. The relative weight of the good and the bad varies in each case. So criticism because the scales tilt different ways in different situations is just not reasonable.

As for mandating a photo ID at the ballot box, the goal is to prevent identification fraud. The harm is that it would make voting more inconvenient and thus less accessible for some people. Reasonable people may disagree, but I give much weight to keeping voting--a basic democratic right, after all--as open as practical.
Worse, of course, is the fact that the level of incompetence and mess and irregularities seems to be purely a Milwaukee phenomenon. Statewide, with the exception of possible felon votes, there's nothing. So why make the whole state suffer? The Wisconsin State Journal agrees:
Preliminary results from an investigation last week showed that most if not all discrepancies with voter registration cards could easily and innocently be explained.

The same cannot be said for Milwaukee, where a large discrepancy in the number of votes cast and counted is troubling and rightly continues to be probed. Milwaukee also allowed a couple hundred felons, released under supervision, to illegally vote. And about 100 people may have somehow voted twice or used fake names or addresses. [. . .]

What the state Legislature shouldn't do is blanket the state with added restrictions on voting to solve a local Milwaukee problem. That could unnecessarily discourage people from voting when everyone seems to agree that more people should be casting ballots.
And remember--that's the WSJ, not the ultra-liberal Capital Times.

We'll see how things move in the next few weeks. As it is, there's kind of, well, nothing doing, as the state busies itself with important things, like affordable health insurance and unemployment . . . or not.

Re: the headline "Think Before You Flush"

Turns out, it's not really an admonishment of the guards and interrogators at Guantanamo. It's about condoms. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Teaching Tuesday: Wherein I Challenge David Gelernter to a Duel

I have been itching for Teaching Tuesday so I can take Gelernter's last op-ed to pieces, spit on the remains, and smack him with the mighty folkbum glove of justice. I say, he has impugned my, I say, my honor.

He writes,
Discussions of school choice and vouchers nearly always assume that public schools are permanent parts of the American educational scene. Increasingly I wonder why. Why should there be any public schools?
Now, here, my honor has not yet been impugned. I just want to smack him because he's being an ass. If he lived at my house, discussions of school choice and vouchers would always reinforce the fact that privatization has, if not out-and-out failed in Milwaukee, at least failed more students than we know. But he continues:
I don't ask merely because the public schools are performing badly, although (as usual) they are. Pamela R. Winnick discusses science teaching in a recent issue of Weekly Standard. One survey found that a whopping 12% of graduating U.S. seniors were "proficient" in science. Global rankings place our seniors 19th among 21 surveyed countries.
There's nothing like broad generalization to set a tone. It doesn't help that he cites (I linked it for you) The Weekly Standard. The Winnick piece is an anti-textbook screed. But finding mistakes in a textbook is like finding steroids in Jose Canseco. What's insidious is Winnick's reference to two discredited, though widely cited, studies: the NAEP 2000 science study (improvements in 4th and 8th grade go ignored by Winnick and Gelernter) and the 1990's Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), the data for which has been thoroughly debunked: "For the TIMSS study, 20 public schools north of Chicago were permitted to compete as their own separate nation. This predominantly upper-middle class consortium of schools placed first internationally in science and second in math." We do pretty well in many parts of the country, and, recall, educate more students further than any other country in the world. But anyway, this is all prologue for Gelernter's real point:
Agreed: The national interest requires that all children be educated and that all taxpayers contribute. But it doesn't follow that we need public schools. We need military aircraft; all taxpayers help pay for them. Which doesn't mean that we need public aircraft companies. (Although if American airplanes ranked 19th best out of 21 contenders, the public might be moved to do something about it.) Schools aren't the same as airplane factories, but the analogy is illuminating.

What gives public schools the right to exist? After all, they are no part of the nation's constitutional framework. Neither the Constitution nor Bill of Rights requires public schools. And in one sense they are foreign to American tradition. Europeans are inspired by state institutions. Americans are apt to be inspired by private enterprise, entrepreneurship, choice.
Well, smarty pants, "In God We Trust" isn't in the Constitution, either, but I don't see you going all Madalyn Murray O’Hair on the U.S. Mint. And, jeebus forbid, we can't be like those rotten Europeans, now can we? What's it gonna be, Gelernter: Should we try to be like other countries (they must be doing something better if they rank higher), or should we be ourselves? The most grievous sin in this part, though is comparing my students to jet airplanes. They are not. They're much less shiny, for one; for another, I can't pump them out in uniform rows of matching airliners. Anyone who asks me to is, in brief, an idiot. Further idiocy:
I believe that public schools have a right to exist insofar as they express a shared public view of education. A consensus on education, at least at the level of each state and arguably of the nation, gives schools the right to call themselves public and be supported by the public. Once public schools stop speaking for the whole community, they are no different from private schools. It's not public schools' incompetence that have wrecked them. It's their non-inclusiveness.

American public schools used to speak for the broad middle ground of American life. No longer. The fault is partly but not only theirs. A hundred years ago, a national consensus existed and public schools did their best to express it. Today that consensus has fractured, and public schools have made no effort to rebuild it.
What the hell is he talking about?, you might be asking. "Broad middle ground"? "National consensus"? The mind reels: Is he offended that schools teach tolerance of gay people? Maybe he's upset that "Intelligent Design" doesn't get the same treatment as evolution? Could it be that he's bothered by our dad-gummed insistence that students have to come to school every day? Let's read on, and see if he provides insight.
To find out where things stood 100 years ago, check the celebrated 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910). "The great mass of the American people are in entire agreement as to the principles which should control public education." No one would dare say that today.

"Formal instruction in manners and morals is not often found" in American public schools, the Britannica explained, "but the discipline of the school offers the best possible training in the habits of truthfulness, honesty, obedience, regularity, punctuality and conformity to order."

The broad national agreement that made such statements possible no longer exists.
A hundred years ago? A-ha! Gelernter hates integration! Ever since we let those black and brown kids into school, the "consensus" has just fallen right apart! Let's look at what education was really like 100 years ago:
At the beginning--and even in the middle--of the century, high school diplomas were rare, indeed. Back in 1900, for instance, only 6 percent of 17-year-olds graduated from high school. By 1940, 25 percent of people age 25 and over had at least a high school diploma. Today, a diploma is the rule rather than the exception: 83 percent of people age 25 and over had at least a high school diploma in 1998.

The number of degrees conferred by the nation's colleges and universities now is more than 70 times higher than it was at the century's start: fewer than 30,000 were awarded in the 1899-1900 school year, compared with 2.2 mil. in 1995-1996.
Okay, okay, I suppose that calling Gelernter a racist is a bit extreme. He's probably not. I should probably just play it safe and say that he probably blames the addition of poor people and immigrants to the educational mix, as well. Never mind that in the 100 years since everyone had a pony, the US has catapulted to the top of the world in graduation rate. In the rest of the world, if you haven't proven your mettle by the time you have hair under your armpits, you're tossed from the academic track. Is that really something Gelernter thinks we should aim for? He goes on, adding that personal touch:
Americans today disagree on fundamentals--on the ethics of sexuality and the family, for example. Recently the Boston Globe described an argument at a Massachusetts kindergarten over a book for young children about "multicultural contemporary family units," including gay and lesbian ones. One 6-year-old's father arrived at school to insist on his right to withdraw his child from class on days when this book was on the program. School administrators "urged" him to leave and, when he didn't, had him arrested. (Michelle Malkin's blog pointed me to the story.) Lately there have been other similar incidents in the news.

Then there are parents like my wife and me. We sent our children to public and not private secondary school exactly so they'd become part of a broad American community. Instead, our boys have been made painfully aware nearly every day of their school lives that they are conservative and their teachers are liberal. Making parents feel like saps is one of the few activities at which today's public schools excel.
Another light bulb! Gelernter reads Michelle Malkin's blog! No wonder he's being idiotic. (In the interests of full disclosure, the Boston Globe story is here.) He also joins the anecdote parade. And yet, he still has room for a "some of my friends . . ." moment. He's the very model of inclusiveness he wishes our schools were!

I would like to know--though this is the kind of information that I would not share if I were a parent or a hack columnist--what's going on in Gelernter's kids' school that makes the liberal/ conservative divide "painful." I don't have time in my classroom to teach everything on my syllabus, let alone indoctrinate. Or is he referring to the likely presence of uncomfortable facts in what his children are learning? Take that Boston Globe story again: No one was teaching the man's child to be gay, or trying to trick him into being gay; the kid had a book called Who's In a Family?, and that book just happened to accurately portray families--including some families with same-sex parents.

Puts me in mind of that flap about "Travels With Buster." The PBS show didn't advocate homosexuality; it just said that homosexuality is. No respectable--or employable--sex education teacher is running around telling kids to have sex. But they wouldn't be doing their jobs if they pretended sex didn't exist. Just because Qu'ran flushing wasn't described in the report Newsweek mentioned in passing doesn't mean Qu'ran flushing never happened. And yet, apparently, in Gelernter's twisted mind, the only way the American public education experiment can ever be successful again is if we stop talking about things that exist, if we start pretending that things are not. Paradoxically, this is the sort of thing that will eventually have us ranking somewhere south of Zanzibar in educational quality. Let me wrap up the Gelernter, here:
Public schools used to invite students to take their places in a shared American culture. They didn't allow a left- or right-wing slant, only a pro-American slant: Their mission, after all, was to produce students who were sufficiently proud of this country to take care of it.

Today's public schools have forfeited their right to exist. Let's get rid of them. Let's do it carefully and humanely, but let's do it. Let's offer every child a choice of private schools instead.

And if this kind of talk makes public schools snap to and get serious, that's OK also. But don't hold your breath.
I could do sentence-by-sentence translation: Schools used to invite students to take their places in a shared American culture. That means the rich white youth learned the tools of culture; the poor, immigrants, and minorities learned that American culture had no place for them. Okay, that's getting tedious already. So let's just do a quick summary of the evidence, shall we?
->100 years ago, our public schools did a great job educating 6% of the rich and white in this country
->Today, we graduate more students, of all colors, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, than ever before, doing okay in apples-to-apples international comparisons
->Public schools teach students an accurate--if threatening to their reactionary parents--view of the world; facts are non-biased
->Private schools--religious schools for example--come with clear biases attached
THEREFORE, in the world of David Gelernter, the best public education system in the world has "forfeited" its right to exist, and we should pack it up in favor of every fly-by-night private school that comes along. This is an insult that will not stand. I challenge him to a duel. Clearly, not a battle of wits. But something. I work my ass off every single day educating the children that, 100 years ago, would not have been allowed in any respectable school house. I do everything that I humanly can to teach these students that, in most circumstances, would be rejected by the private schools Gelernter so admires. To say that my efforts contribute the forfeiture of these students' right to a free and comprehensive education is a personal and professional affront.

It's a shame to think, in a final irony of ironies, David Gelernter learned this kind of logic somewhere. Hm. Maybe we do need to do something drastic to our schools.

Teaching Tuesday: Lauren's Rant

Lauren at Feministe is always good for a lot more than just Friday Random Ten instructions. I don't link to her often enough, so today I will rectify that a little.

Last night, soon-to-be-a-teacher Lauren posted a rant about public education, which boils down pretty simply to the statement she starts with: Schools are, from the ground up, primarily controlled by politicians.

I'll quote more Lauren in a minute, but first I will tell you that she writes in response to this post by Amanda at Pandagon, who writes,
[T]here is a fundamental struggle in this country over education, just as there are struggles over things like the estate tax and Social Security. The struggle is a class war and the "conservative" position is that our country's policies should be geared towards creating a permanent aristocracy. And universal education is a huge obstacle on the road towards that end goal. [. . .]

The problem for them is that this is still a democracy and the vast majority of people are reluctant to hand their children over to a school that's purpose is to make your kids dumber, not smarter. In comes the favorite conservative strategy of taking profoundly un-democratic principles and recasting them as populist arguments. [. . . T]he argument is that this [new] type of education is somehow an assault on the traditions of everyday people--"You learned through rote memorization and so should your kids!" It becomes a pride thing and thereby undermines people's desire to make a better life for their children than they had.
I would add a heavy does of anti-tax hysteria and anti-gay crusading, but, yeah, that's a pretty accurate assessment. The fundamental principle involved in all of this, of course, is that the anti-science, anti-gay, anti-tax agenda is driven by politics, and resistance, even in the form of strong teachers' unions, is also inherently political. Which brings us back to Lauren. Here's what's interesting (her emphasis):
Everyone goes to school, thus everyone thinks s/he is an educational expert.

Politicians, concerned with public sway, bloviate on education and educational policies that have no empirical bearing on scholastic research, do not take into account that the United States is, in part, founded on the belief that education is a fundamental human right, and discount proactive, comprehensive learning in favor of learning that will produce a desired test score. I am entirely opposed to any sort of politicization from Democrats and Republicans alike that turns the educational system away from the individual student and teachers there to serve them. Nor do I have sympathy for outsiders critical of the school system or critical of sound educational practice that have no formal training in eduacation. [. . .]

Those on the ground, teachers and in-school administators, are puppets for these politicians, strong-armed into the policies that politicians all over the political spectrum enact for the primary purpose of building reputation and maintaining political power. The solace you have as an educator is that when you step into a classroom, the door closes behind you. It’s you and the students. [. . .]

Education is a political issue--but it shouldn’t be. I am of the firm belief that aside from public support and funding, the public school system should lie at the hands of educators and people trained in sound pedagogical practices.
I had these same feelings when I first started, but I got over them within a few months. In the trenches, the frustrations brought about by outside forces really don't amount to much. Not that the battles aren't worth fighting, of course, and I am glad that there are those who fight them.

The problem Lauren is going to find, sooner rather than later, is that the biggest threats to the quality of her teaching will not come from without, but from within. There will be parents, students, principals, colleagues, board members, and superintendents all working against her. Yes, it upsets me when I hear Bush or Spellings or local yokels like Alberta Darling talk out of their behinds on education. But I wouldn't quit over that. I would quit because my principal played politics or my superintendent tried to multiplex my perfectly good comprehensive high school.

Maybe I'm feeling a little cynical just now--with a handful of days left and a particularly inept superintendent at the helm of my district--but I find the Kansas debate and the challenges of NCLB to be peripheral distractions. I'm focusing on the only struggle I can win, and that's the teacher-student interaction. If I can keep that moving forward for just a few more weeks, I will have been victorious, and that alone is a political victory.

But I do want also to make this pitch for the teachers unions, who, unlike some who think they know, actually do know what makes bad teachers better and good teachers great. Unlike probably any other union you could name, NEA and AFT spend a significant portion of their dues on professional development. They are taking up a lot of the slack being left by states and districts strapped for cash or politically unwilling to make the commitment to continuing quality teacher education. The constant weakening of teachers unions is a danger not, in the end, to the teachers, but to the quality of the education itself.

It is for this reason that public schools supporters must speak out in favor of the teachers unions, despite their bad rap. (Lauren cites the universal constant that parents who think schools are falling apart like their local one just fine, thank you; the same rule applies to people who despise teachers unions but have nothing but praise for the teachers themselves.) Supporting unions is just about the most political thing you can do these days. As much as conservatives have, over the last thirty years, destroyed much that was worth loving about America, one of the severest casualties has been the union. They are so dead-set against unions that, recall, the major sticking point in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was whether employees would be union or not: Conservatives were willing to jeopardize the safety of the nation to score some points destroying another union.

So there's my rant. I can even put it in bold for you: The biggest dangers come from within, not without. The only point that matters is the point of contact between me and my students. The only support I get at that point is through my union. My belonging to and support of a union is, in and of itself, political. The very act of teaching, then, is political.

Your turn.

Monday, May 16, 2005

To the person at Los Alamos National Laboratory

who found your way here with the search string "he inserted his" ramming, be aware that this one taxpayer, at least, wishes you'd do something better on my dime.

Do You Use The Internet?

If so, tell the Federal Election Commission what you think about proposed rules changes and the internet. Even if you're not a blogger, your input is very important, given how little the FEC seems to get the way blogs and the internet in general actually work. For more information, see the post by a real-live lawyer.

Happy Birthday

to Studs Terkel, a spry 91 93 today.

By the way, is not his home page. Just thought you should know.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Rethinking the Minimum Wage

I wrote most of this post Thursday, but Blogger ate it. I'm doing my best to reconstruct it now. (The problem seems to be that the "Save As Draft" button doesn't, um, save anything. Anyone else having that problem?)

The idea stemmed from the agreement between J-Dizzle and the Madison Republicans to raise the minimum wage, in the process, wiping out any municipality's individual attempts to increase it, and, likely, clearing the way to raise their own salaries.

Now, I'm not suggesting, as the title of this post might indicate, that I am opposed to the increase. I think that, given the circumstances, it's the least we can do. But I also strongly feel that, given the circumstances, it really is the least we could have possibly done.

After Blogger ate my first attempt at this, I found one of my favorite writers had actually written much of what I wanted to say. So I will at this point quote liberally from Barbara O'Brien:
"...workers in the world's richest nation can no longer count on the private sector to provide them with economic security." The words above are from [Friday's] Paul Krugman column. These are true words. 
I realize that many people will disagree that American workers can no longer count on the private sector for economic security, but the evidence says otherwise.   The Financial Times says that "Real wages in the US are falling at their fastest rate in 14 years." [. . .]
I don't believe the general public is yet fully aware of the danger we're in. Of course, many people will not see the danger as long as the system is working for them. They're like sunbathers on a beach watching a tsunami roll in; as long as they're still dry, no problem. I think increasing numbers of people  sense that something's going wrong, but many are still in "it must be my fault" or "this is just bad luck" or "maybe it'll turn around soon" phases. And their employers and political leaders are not explaining the danger with true words. Instead, they're offering excuses and empty promises.
People don't yet see that what's happening is a systemic change. It's not going to turn around unless action is taken to make it turn around.. And there will be no action until the public demands it.
The U.S. auto industry, Krugman writes, is "weighed down by health care costs for current and retired workers, which run to about $1,500 per vehicle at G.M." Other companies are going the Wal-Mart route. Krugman writes that while General Motors declines,
Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation. Like G.M. in its prime, it has become a widely emulated business icon. But there the resemblance ends.

The average full-time Wal-Mart employee is paid only about $17,000 a year. The company's health care plan covers fewer than half of its workers.
Note that many Wal-Mart employees rely on Medicaid, which of course is facing massive budget cuts.
For years the right-wing mantra has been that the private sector can provide economic security for all more efficiently than government, and government safety-net programs were wasteful "entitlements." Well, folks, the Right is wrong. Maybe the private sector could provide for the economic security of its workers, assuming our health care crisis is resolved, but it won't without government regulation. [. . .]

What kind of America do we want to be? Over the past 50 or so years the Right has persuaded much of the American middle class that "entitlements" and "safety nets" amounted to taking money away from virtuous working people to support a parasitic underclass. The middle class took its own safety nets for granted. Well, folks, sometimes you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
We value work, initiative, and self-reliance. But government is necessary to maintain a system that rewards work and initiative and facilitates self-reliance. Left with no government oversight, our corporate overlords would soon turn America into a place where labor is ruthlessly exploited, and in which people who depend on a paycheck are crushed into hopelessness.
Indeed. Many on the right here in Wisconsin are lamenting the compromise that let the minimum wage increase through--see my arch-rival Owen, for example--because it is exactly the kind of government intervention in the market that they have been conditioned for so long is inexcusable and unacceptable.

Yet, without action, the minimum wage would remain at a 55-year low. And while not every low-wage worker earns the minimum, it remains true someone with two kids at home needs to earn one-and-a-half times the minimum wage to remain above poverty level. Plus, you can bet that virtually no one earning minimum, or even 1.5 times minimum, is getting much in terms of health benefits from their employers. At the rate things are going, the cost of buying health care for a family will be greater soon than even double minimum wage. This is why your average Wal-Mart store costs you and me $420,000 in federal taxes, and even more from the states. Wal-Mart's great success has not come from the hard work of the people or the ingenuity of the obscenely wealthy people running the company; its success has come from decades of state and federal subsidy.

At any rate, to get to my point: I believe it's time for Democrats to stop talking about the minimum wage. I believe, even, that it's time for Democrats to stop talking about the costs of health care. I think that instead, we need to offer a larger, systematic vision of change.

I wrote a a few weeks back about what Mike McCabe said at the People's Legislature: Anti-progressives are trying to sell the people on a vision of the well-known past, even if that past no longer applies. Progressives are losing because we can't get our stuff together well enough to offer any kind of compelling alternate vision of the future. In other words, Republicans are trying to sell the dismantling of Social Security on the notion that government hand-outs are wrong, and that the private sector can take care of you. Well, maybe 30 years ago, when you retired from GM with a handsome pension and guaranteed health care, Social Security didn't mean much to you. Today, though, your pension is gone and your health care is far from guaranteed. We need Social Security now more than ever. But we can't formulate that compelling vision, so we kind of huff about and say, "But it's not broken!" This misses the point and answers the wrong argument: Conservatives' attempts to privatize Social Security aren't about fixing it.

Or take the minimum wage: Conservatives would have us believe that raising the minimum wage will lead to unemployment (which is not true). Progressives have no competing vision, other than to say, "But poor people are poor!" That also misses the point and answers the wrong argument. Conservatives' moves to block the minimum wage increase are all about padding the bottom line for the Wal-Marts of the world, not giving poor people jobs.

The same for health care. When HillaryCare™ was all the rage in Democratic circles (and, oh, how I wish we had truly acted then--a decade of double-digit health care cost increases has broken us), we lost the debate because Republicans' opposition was based on ensuring the health of insurance companies, not Americans. And yet, Democrats, who, dadblammit, ought to be able to win on this issue, couldn't articulate the kind of vision that would win against Harry and Louise.

Are you noticing a pattern? The Republican/ Conservative version of the vision is always about the bottom line of the American corporation, through the elimination of pension guarantees, added juice to the stock market, or protection of Wal-Mart's profit margin. They know what they're selling and can fight the fight every time it comes up because they have the solid platform. Problem is, of course, that it's a platform that doesn't do a damned thing for the people.

Kevin Drum has been hitting this pretty hard in the last month or so, and he puts the economics of the situation into words that non-economists and even Republicans can understand, replete with pretty pictures. For example, he notes that "Democratic presidents have consistently higher economic growth and consistently lower unemployment than Republican presidents. If you add in a time lag, you get the same result. If you eliminate the best and worst presidents, you get the same result. If you take a look at other economic indicators, you get the same result. There's just no way around it: Democratic administrations are better for the economy than Republican administrations." And yet the vision Republicans sell is that they are better for the economy--in part because they make no secret of their support for the bottom line.

Or take this one:
Democratic presidents tend to promote policies that either keep income inequality in check or lower it a bit (Jimmy Carter is the exception), while Republican presidents pursue policies that make income inequality worse. The upper and lower lines are guesstimates of what income inequality would be if we had followed only Republican policies or only Democratic policies since 1947. Pure Democratic rule would have produced a slight decrease in inequality, while pure Republican rule would have produced a staggering increase in the ratio to 6:1.

This is important because it's at the heart of the difference between liberal and conservative views of what's good for the economy. I won't try to pretend that I can prove this, but I believe pretty strongly that the single most important economic indicator you can look at is the health of the working and middle classes, the (approximately) middle 60% of the country. Why? Because if unemployment is low and middle class incomes are growing, then everyone wins. The poor win because a healthy middle class is more likely to support safety net and anti-poverty programs, and the rich win because a healthy middle class drives overall economic growth.

Conservatives drive up income inequality because they focus primarily on the well off, which benefits only the well off. Liberals keep income inequality in check because they focus (or should focus) primarily on the working and middle classes, which benefits everyone. And that's the underlying reason that Democratic presidents are better for the economy than Republican presidents. If you keep the unemployment level low and middle class incomes growing, the rest of the economy will pretty much take care of itself.
Today, Drum writes about income mobility and--if you only read one of these that I'm citing, read this one--points out what those at the bottom already know: The deck is so badly stacked against you that you just can't get ahead. When you consider how many obstacles lie in the path to success for your average minimum-wage (or just above) worker--from health care to higher education to the ability to declare bankruptcy and get out from under predatory debt--there is little or no hope any more.

And yet, that's what the Republicans are selling. That's the way they are able to make their pro-business message resonate with those business sees as replaceable commodities. Barbara O'Brien dissects David Brooks (Bobo) today:
Bobo says a large majority of "poor Republicans" agreed with the first statement. However, 79 percent of people identified by Pew as "Disadvantaged Dems" agreed with the second.

Bobo interprets this, thus:
Many people have wondered why so many lower-middle-class waitresses in Kansas and Hispanic warehouse workers in Texas now call themselves Republicans. The Pew data provide an answer: they agree with Horatio Alger.

These working-class folk like the G.O.P.'s social and foreign policies, but the big difference between poor Republicans and poor Democrats is that the former believe that individuals can make it on their own with hard work and good character.
I'd put it another way: Poor people who vote Republican think the established order--the "system"--works for them. Poor people who vote Democratic think the system works against them. Are we looking at Democratic pessimism versus Republican optimism, as Brooks thinks? Or are we looking at realists versus schnooks?

Brooks's own words reveal that these optimists are distrustful of Wall Street and big business, but they still have faith that they can improve their own lives through hard work, determination, and good character. And maybe they can. But seems to me that "optimists" who are stalked by fear "their lives will fall apart" are cultivating cognitive dissonance of Godzilla proportions.
Kevin Drum picks up from there:
Read the whole article until you get to that line. You'll read all about Kay Cody and her brothers and their kids. You'll read about the instability in their lives. You'll learn what the stock market did to Kay's 401(k). You'll learn about how envious they are of their father and his guaranteed pension and generous Social Security check. And then, after reading all that, you're suddenly jerked out of your chair and told that Kay Cody thinks private accounts are a great idea anyway. It's mind boggling.

This is What's The Matter With Kansas? territory, and you just want to grab these guys by the shoulders and shake hard: If you want the government to provide more security, quit voting for the guys who are trying to tear it down! Here is Kay's daughter:
"I see how my grandparents were able to get by, but my husband and I just struggle from paycheck to paycheck," she said. "I don't have a pension and I'm not expecting Social Security to hold up long enough for me. Where is all the government's money going? Who is it benefiting? Nothing is benefiting me."
That's right! And things will stay that way until you STOP .... VOTING .... FOR ..... REPUBLICANS!
Now, I'm not sure that "STOP VOTING FOR REPUBLICANS" is really the alternative vision we Democrats and progressives should be selling. I don't know that it will work. I'm also not sure that I have the vision down--I'm not certain I can put it into words. But believe that it's there, and it has to be a vision that offers hope without bigotry, homophobia, and unbridled corporatism.

I fell in love (politically) with Howard Dean two years ago because he was able to articulate something very close that that vision: We are all in this together, he said, and we can do better. And his vision didn't rely on the fundamentalist preachers or the CEOs to pull America through, it relied on us. As much as it burns me, the Republicans keep winning the battle for those who work hard and hope to get ahead; somehow these second Americans (thanks, John Edwards, for the best frame on this issue) don't see that the way to overcome the obstacles the first America lays in their paths is by voting for Democrats and progressives willing to look at the system as a whole.

The minimum wage debate is a symptom and a distraction; it's time to talk about real change.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Voter ID Redux (or is that re-re-re-redux?)

In the Horowitz-fest yesterday, I neglected discussion of, you know, real issues. (Though I must say that my traffic yesterday tripled, and it's well on its way to being doubled today because of the wingers coming to visit. I am now lamenting my lack of ads.)

So today I'll be back to it. Thursday, the Wisconsin state senate, in a Sysyphian move, once again approved the partisan Voter ID bill that Madison Republicans have been pimping for several sessions now. In doing so, they have missed another opportunity for genuine election reform that would actually cut down on the kind of fraud we have evidence of.

Afterwards, senate Democrats noted that the rush Republicans put on the bill left them no time to offer any amendments that would make a voter ID palatable to governor J-Dizzle and his posse--things like provisions "that would allow voters to show a document with their voting addresses, such as a utility bill or a bank statement, or the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, in lieu of a photo ID." These are common in other states, but Republicans said they would be unacceptable.

Again, this demonstrates that Republicans are interested in one thing and one thing only: suppression of voter turnout. Any real election reform isn't even on their radar.

Friday, May 13, 2005

David Horowitz hates ME!!!!!

Woo-hoo! I have now made the scene, the big time. I am da man! I am right up there with, erm, Michael Berube!

Yes, lowly ol' me, lucky to get 50 hits a day on my meagre blog, I have achieved something only a select few can: I have been dissed by David Horowitz:
I was surfing the blogosphere the other day and came across an eye-catching sentence on a blog called “Folkbum’s Rambles and Rants,” which describes itself as being “A Small Squeaky Cog in the Vast Leftwing Conspiracy.” [ed. he can't even cut and paste right; I know that left-wing is a hyphenate] Actually it was two sentences that caught my eye and they went like this: “Do we also have to start rounding up the college professors and putting them in camps? David Horowitz is this close to being that explicit.”

In the course of my campaign for academic freedom on college campuses, I’ve grown used to malicious, mendacious and unprincipled attacks from leftists in general and Democrats in particular, people who generally like to preen themselves as “liberals” but haven’t had a tolerant impulse in years. [. . .]

Folkbum’s suggestion that I am out to put professors into camps certainly raises the bar a bit. This is the first time I believe that my modest proposal to hold academics to their own academic freedom guidelines while extending them to students has been called “Nazi.” Where could Folkbum have come up with this idea?

As it happens, the link from my name leads to a site created by John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, and George Soros’ current point man at the Center for American Progress. Podesta’s site, called Think Progress is one of many that Podesta has launched from his 501©3 cum Political Action Committee. The link from my name on Folkbum takes the reader to a page on the Podesta site which is part of its regular feature “Radical Right-wing Agenda.”
First: "Surfing the blogosphere" my ass! The man was doing a Technorati search on his own name, the egotistical bastard. (I get little enough traffic, I know where most of it comes from.) Maybe not egotistical, exactly, but it seems clear from the way he wrote the article that he was trolling for someone saying bad things about him. I guess he has to earn that paycheck somehow.

Horowitz, since he's not one of my three or four regular readers, seemed to miss the fact that I use a lot of hyperbole. Let me give you the full context of the sentences he is quoting, found in a post titled, "Evolution vs. Creationism," and you decide if you think I'm being serious:
Recent weeks have brought us the Terri Schiavo debacle, in which prominent public Christians everywhere saw a train and rode it until the money stopped coming in; the death of the Pope and everyone who had ever once called him senile or wacko trying to say how much Bush was just as holy as he was; the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference, featuring conservative activists quoting Satlin ; and, tonight, "Justice Sunday," wherein the nation's Republican and Christian leaders gather to make the case on national television that Democrat=Godless Heathen. [. . .]

But the arguments for ID and against evolution have gotten more insidious. Take this guy: "But pastor and parent Ray Mummert, 54, explained their point. 'If we continue to indoctrinate our young people with non-religious principles, we're headed for an internal destruction of this society,' he said. [. . .] 'We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture,' he said."

It puts me in mind of the "Bart's Comet" episode of "The Simpsons." In order to make certain that another comet never threatens to destroy the town again, the good people of Springfield decide to destroy the observatory. When it becomes a problem for people to be educated, then you know we've gone too far. Is it not enough that we have people quoting Stalin? Do we also have to start rounding up the college professors and putting them in camps? David Horowitz is this close to being that explicit.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, in a paragraph where my most salient point is based on an episode of "The Simpsons," I am deathly earnest in my "suggestion that [Horowitz is] out to put professors into camps."

I'm not seriously suggesting any such thing, although, as others have noted before me, the efforts of Horowitz and his ilk to impose strict ideological restrictions on institutions of higher learning are pretty frightening. More frightening is Horowitz's "database" (that's a link to Salon; get the day pass and read the whole thing) which links nice guys like Barack Obama to terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Sadly, I searched the database and found that I have not yet been added. (David, if you're reading this--and given your tendency to Technorati yourself, I bet you are!--let me know if you need a head shot, 'kay?)

At any rate, click through to the Think Progress link I originally used. Read up. Then Technorati Horowitz, and read more about him. He is the lunatic fringe. Me? I'm happy to just stay a small, squeaky cog.