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Monday, July 31, 2006

A Guest Post from Secretary of State Candidate Scot Ross

A Serious Concern

Dear Fellow Democrats,

I write you today because if I fail to act, I am doing Democrats a disservice.

Recently, I wrote my opponent, Doug LaFollette, a letter asking him if he would join me for a handful of debates, so the people of Wisconsin, in particular our fellow Democrats, would have the opportunity to hear our respective plans for the office.

This week I received an e-mail refusing my invitation to debate. What alarms me and why I am choosing to speak about this is his unacceptable reasoning for turning me down. He wrote:
"Indeed, such debates might only serve to give the Republican candidate for this office ammunition for his campaign." - Secretary of State Doug LaFollette
Excuse me?

To tell Democrats we should remain silent out of fear the Republicans will attack our positions is exactly why we need new leadership in the Secretary of State's office - and why it is time for Doug LaFollette to go.

I pledge to you I will never compromise myself for the sake of convenience or out of fear. I will always stand up and fight for the people of Wisconsin and for the values we share as Democrats.

I am challenging our 28-year incumbent because he has refused to speak out in the face of a dozen years of Republican majority in the State Legislature and Congress, five years of the most corrupt Presidential Administration in history, curtailed freedoms, threatened liberties an illegal war waged which has cost 2,570 American soldiers their lives.

And Doug wants us as Democrats to keep quiet, so Republicans don't have "ammunition?"

With what is at stake, Democrats should not have to settle for this type of weakness from any elected official who asks us for our support.

This year is too important. We need Democrats who are ready, willing and able to stand up to Mark Green, John Gard and George W. Bush.

I will. Doug LaFollette has said he will not.

As I said at the convention, you don't get our vote just for being a Democrat. You earn our vote by being there for other Democrats.

I look forward to continuing to earn your support as we get closer to the September 12 primary. Please call me, email me, write me, or talk to me in person with any suggestions or advice you might have.

Thank you,
Ross Across Wisconsin

Feingold's small-donor strength

by folkbum. I'm really going to stop blogging now and let my guests take over. I promise.

A new analysis out today of Russ Feingold's Progressive Patriots Fund--and the leadership PACs of eight other potential 2008 Democratic candidates--shows that Russ is appealing to the same kind of small-dollar donors that a lot of us remember (and a lot of us were) from Howard Dean's quixotic 2004 run. No one else even comes close to the kind of success Russ is having in that regard.

Craig Gilbert's got the story in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
As he explores a 2008 presidential bid, Sen. Russ Feingold has raised a little more than $2 million this year, putting him ahead of some potential Democratic rivals and well behind others. But in one respect, Feingold's fund raising sets him apart. Unlike any other '08 prospect in his party, his early money is coming mostly from small donors.

In the first half of 2006, the Wisconsin senator raised 62% of his funds from people giving $200 or less, a much higher share than any other potential candidate. His total of roughly $1.3 million in small donations is topped only by Hillary Clinton, by far the dominant Democratic fund-raiser. [. . .]

Feingold's recent campaign filings offer a glimpse into his likely strategy: to tap the growing, Internet-fueled power of small donors, who propelled Democrat Howard Dean in 2003 and pumped more than $200 million into the last presidential campaign, according to one study of small donors in the 2004 election.

"The strength of (Feingold's) candidacy will depend on his catching a wave powered by Internet donors, much like the Dean wave," said Michael Malbin, a campaign finance expert who helped write that study. "I think it's impressive to have a following of small donors this early," said Malbin, who noted that even Dean began his campaign by raising mostly large contributions, as most presidential hopefuls do early in the election cycle. [. . .]

Spokesman Trevor Miller said more than 25,000 people this year have given to either Feingold's Senate committee or his political action committee, the Progressive Patriots Fund. Miller would not say what share of Feingold's small donations have been made online, which costs a campaign little. In an interview last month, Feingold expressed confidence that if he ran, he'd be able to tap the growing potential of the Internet as a fund-raising tool.

"I think it would explode if we went in that direction," he said. One small example of how that can work occurred in March, when Feingold came out with his well-publicized proposal to censure President Bush over wiretapping. March remains the best month ever for Feingold's political action committee; it took in a little more than $280,000. In only one other month has the committee taken in more than $200,000. [. . .]

A small-donor strategy fits into Feingold's political style (he co-wrote the 2002 campaign finance reforms), and it would also seem to be his best shot politically at building a fund-raising base. He lacks the national networks of big-name Democrats such as Clinton and Kerry and is not the sort of powerhouse fund-raiser among large donors that Warner is turning out to be.
This graphic has them all; note that only Kerry and Clark have more than 25% of their donations from small donors:

In one sense, I think Feingold's early small-donor strength is incredibly impressive. While it may be true that he's not pulling in Hillary or Warner kind of dough, the small-dollar donors are sustainable--something not true of people who can give $2100 in one shot. If Russ can keep tapping those donors, he'll be able to make up a lot of ground later.

But in a second, larger sense, this also speaks to the broad appeal of Feingold's message; people aren't donating to him because they are big-money folks who want to back a winner, but rather because they are your average joes who like what Russ has been saying and doing. Russ's support for presidential accountabilty and universal health care, among other things, resonates with voters. That's something not all of the people beating Feingold in the money race can say.

Whether or not Russ can win (two divorces, anyone?) is a completely separate question. But right now, it looks like Russ has everything in place that he needs to build a broad movement. I, for one, look forward to watching it take shape.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

New Journal Sentinel Community Columnists

by folkbum

No, I am not among them. However, congrats to current guest-poster Stephen Paske, who did make the cut. Looks like a good list.

Donuts and chickens

By Keith Schmitz

As warned, lots of senior citizens are hitting the Medicare donut hole where their drug coverage suddenly goes away. The New York Times this morning points out that sometime this year over thee million of the people on the plan will find they will have to come up with the money to cover the drugs they need to live.

And for many GOP the chickens will be coming home to roost. If we go by the averages, most of these seniors will see the trap door open up around say, November.

To make matters worse for themselves, the conservatives fell into their own fantasies of the power of consumer in the medical market.
Melvin A. Kinnison, 65, of Huntington Beach, Calif., a retired deputy sheriff with diabetes and prostate cancer, said: “The drug benefit was fine for a while, until the doughnut hole came around. It was a total surprise. Nobody ever explained it to me.”

As any economist will tell you, power in the market comes from information. Imagine your 85 year old mother trying to negotiate the labyrinth of details of the new Medicare plan overlaid with the fear that a screw up could affect the benefits – and you trying to explain it to her.

But now the real power will come from the payback from these seniors who love to vote against the politicians duplicitous in this scheme.
Lawmakers do not defend the coverage gap as sound health policy. Rather, they say, it was a way to limit the cost of the new program while providing some benefits to almost everyone, comprehensive coverage to low-income people and generous catastrophic coverage to people with high drug costs.

For many of these lawmakers such as Mark Green they should have thought beyond the urging of K Street lobbyists to come up with a plan that could have done a better job of covering seniors. What is amazing is the beltway bubble these people live in where they had no idea how this would play at home.

In the Wisconsin gubernatorial election and many close Congressional races across the country these seniors will not let these lawmakers forget who gave them the job in the first place. Work the numbers. About over 8,000 people will be digging into their own pockets at Walgreens and CVS. That could eat into Jim Sensenbrenner's margin, and Bryan Kennedy would have to be foolish not to cash in. And though Bryan keeps a trim profile, he will not pass up on this donut.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A BIG problem with health insurance

by Stephen Paske

In all the talk about the need for health-care reform, I've noticed that many times people forget to mention a BIG part of the health-care problem, and one that is growing, OBESITY. Consider this snipit from a June article from U.S.A. Today:

Private health insurance spending on illnesses related to obesity has increased more than tenfold since 1987, according to the first research to quantify the trend.
The growth in obesity has fueled a dramatic increase in the amount spent treating diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and other weight-related illnesses, says the study, which is published today in Health Affairs, an online journal of health policy and research.
Overall, employers and privately insured families spent $36.5 billion on obesity-linked illnesses in 2002, up from an inflation-adjusted $3.6 billion in 1987. That's up from 2% of total health care spending on obesity in 1987 to 11.6% in 2002, the latest year for which data are available.
On average, treating an obese person cost $1,244 more in 2002 than treating a healthy-weight person did. In 1987, the gap was $272. Private health insurance spending on illnesses related to obesity has increased more than tenfold since 1987, according to the first research to quantify the trend.
The growth in obesity has fueled a dramatic increase in the amount spent treating diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and other weight-related illnesses, says the study, which is published today in Health Affairs, an online journal of health policy and research.
Overall, employers and privately insured families spent $36.5 billion on obesity-linked illnesses in 2002, up from an inflation-adjusted $3.6 billion in 1987. That's up from 2% of total health care spending on obesity in 1987 to 11.6% in 2002, the latest year for which data are available.
On average, treating an obese person cost $1,244 more in 2002 than treating a healthy-weight person did. In 1987, the gap was $272.

Here's the million dollar question for me. If I have an accident, I pay more for Auto Insurance. If I smoke, I pay more for life insurance. If I build a house on a flood plain, I pay more for fire/flood insurance. Why don't I pay more as an individual for health insurance if every third meal of mine includes a Big Mac and a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese? According to this article it costs $1,244 more to treat an obese person (I'm presuming annually) than a person my weight, yet if I have typical private sector plan I'm paying the same deductable and same premium.

Now certainly there are exceptions. There are thyroid and gland problems that are a medically sound cause for obesity. But in over 90% of cases, the real problem is that American's choose not live healthy. We talk about going after the companies, we talk about a more socialized approach, but how come nobody ever talks about waging a serious battle against the epidemic of obesity in this country?

Quite frankly I think that one way to ultimately lower health-care costs in this country would be to offer incentives for people to live healthy, and to punish those who never watch what they eat. At least then the cost of treatment would be more fair for those who have healthy lifestyles when they do have a health-care need. Why not incorportate some sort of tax that goes to a health-care slush fund each time somebody purchases a quarter pounder with cheese? And why not a tax credit of some sort for anyone that registered and had a finishing time for a local 5K road race, or for someone who logs an hour at the gym three times a week.

I think a lot more people would actually use those gym memberships if everytime they logged an hour at the club they got $5 back. And if fast food burgers were 50-cents more expensive, at least if Sloppy Joe ate 20,000 of them there'd be $10,000 in the health-care slush fund straight from his pocket to help pay the cost of treating his heart attack.

Perhaps this is all too complex. Perhaps it's just too much in the way of overregulation. But if somebody has a better idea I'd love to hear it.

Soft boiled arguments

Muddying the Stem Cell Argument
by Keith Schmitz

Frank Rich hit it right on the head last weekend in the New York Times when he said that Bill Frist no doubt changed his position against stem cell research when he saw the polling and found the support to be "eye-popping."

You can bet the GOP realizes that Jim Doyle has a nice big horse to ride back to the Governor's Mansion with the stem cell issue. Even with the disegagement of the electorate, many people recognize the potential that lies in embryonic stem cell research. Heck, many Republican business people also recognize the potential that this technology offers in furthering Wisconsin as the "third coast" in bio-med research; a potential that not only benefits the labs and bio-pharms directly involved but a whole host of suport businesses as well.

So get set for a flurry of conservative columnists sweating away to claim things aren't what they are and diversionary tactics such as labeling Doyle's latest campaign ad as misleading to fit in with their "the governor is dis-honest" frame. The Journal has pitched in on this one big time.

Case in point is Rick Esenberg's op-ed in this morning's Journal.

I don't have time to research or refute all the howlers, but his essay is a bit conflicted -- a hallmark of much of his work.

Let's take one. He assails the popularly held asertion that there are 400,000 surplus embryos
from in vitro fertilzation clinics. Us supporters of stem cell research maintain that if the anti-abortion crowd is so concerned about these "people" being destroyed in the quest for cures, then flushing them away eventually is not exactly death with dignity.

Esenberg claims that a Rand study says there are 11,000 embryos. Just a quick hit here. That's still a goodly share of "people," just over the size of my home town Port Washington. You still have to flush even that small number away if you arn't going to apply them to science.

Then Rick goes on to bring help from the left by "quoting" a Mother Jones piece by Liza Mundy that says, despite what stem cell supporters say, the parents do not want to give the embryos they helped create for stem cell research.

The way Rick puts it from the article:

It seems that, in overwhelming numbers, they cannot bring themselves to destroy the embryos or to turn them over for research because, whether they be "lives" or "potential lives," creating them for destruction seems wrong.

Well, we do have the internets (damn that Al Gore!) and you can read the article for yourself (no link provided in the Journal).

First off, Mundy accepts the existence of the large number of frozen embryos, from of all places a "rand consulting group" study. She puts the number in fact at 500,000.

She then goes on the talk about those parents. Yes, one of their feelings is to preserve their embryonic progeny. But this of course is no conservativeworld and it turns out that these parents are much more conflicted than what Esenberg claims.

According to the study led by Dr. Robert Nachtigal:

Couples, (the research) found, were confused yet deeply affected by the responsibility of deciding what to do with their embryos. They wanted to do the right thing. All of the 58 couples in his study had children as a result of treatment, so they knew, well, what even three-day-old embryos can and do grow into. (Nachtigall is currently studying a much larger sample of couples, where both egg and sperm come from the parents. It should answer the question of whether couples who use donor eggs are in any way distinct in their thinking about embryos.) “Some saw them as biological material, but most recognized the potential for life,” Nachtigall told colleagues at the asrm meeting. “For many couples, it seems there is no good decision; yet they still take it seriously morally.”

And that is not to say the previous study that you will find in the article is invalid, which found:

...many patients begin in vertro fertilization with some notion about how they will dispose of surplus embryos. (The choices come down to five: use them; donate them for research; donate them to another infertile person; freeze them indefinitely; or have them thawed, that is, quietly disposed of.)

Brace yourself, you will see more of these op-eds as we approach the election with lots of poorly researched assertions. My only hope is that the Journal editorial page does a better job of fact checking.

The GOP knows full well that the stem cell issue will make a difference in this election like it did earlier this year in the New Jersey special election for Governor, and as it will across this country. In the process, they will be willing to sacrifice this very important research for their usual short term gain. Don't let them do it.

House vote to ban Myspace from schools, libraries.

by Ben Masel

The House of Representatives Wednesday night passed legislation mandating that schools and libraries receiving federal funds or discounted rates under the Universal Access statutes block social networking sits such as Myspace, Friendster, and Xanga.

Dubbed the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), the bill gives the Federal Trade Commission 120 days to enact rules further defining "Social Networking Sites" but it's my first impression that the prohibition would kick in immediately on passage in the Senate and signing by the President.

The 410 "Ayes" included all of Wisconsin's Representatives, with only 15 Democrats voting against. rollcall

Some interesting snips from the floor debate
The simple fact of the matter is this legislation was sprung on us. I am told that it was written last night. We barely saw it before the process on the floor started. And the committee process, which enables us to look at legislation in a sound and responsible way, and the committee process, which enables us to work together to put good legislation on the floor, legislation which is carefully thought out and which the wisdom of all of the Members is brought to bear on the question, is not something which we find in the process in which we are now engaged.

So now we are on the floor with a piece of legislation poorly thought out, with an abundance of surprises, which carries with it that curious smell of partisanship and panic, but which is not going to address the problems.

We have a piece of legislation on which we have less than an hour to talk, and we have no opportunity whatsoever to amend the proposal. We can vote ``yes'' or we can vote ``no.'' Well, most Members, I suspect, will do the politically wise thing, and I will join them in it, and that is, I am going to hold my nose and vote for this legislation in the full awareness that it is not going to address the problem at all and that it is a political placebo for a very, very, serious problem...

Ms. WATSON. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act, because it sends the wrong message to our children, our parents, teachers and librarians. The bill would curb Internet usage as a means to protect children, a counterproductive method to achieving such an important goal.

Rather than restricting Internet usage, parents, teachers and librarians need to teach children how to use our ever changing technology. The information age in which we live offers so much potential to our children, if they know how to use it...

Mrs. BIGGERT. Mr. Speaker, I rise today as a cosponsor of H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act...

...It is easy to see why networking Web sites are popular among teens. A recent poll by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 87 percent of those aged 12 to 17 use the Internet on a regular basis. Of this 87 percent, approximately 61 percent report having personal profiles on networking Web sites like MySpace, Facebook or Xanga.

Presuming Mrs. Biggert (an Illinois Republican) is correct, why would Dem Representatives want to alienate over half of todays teens, who after all, will be joining the electorate soon? This bill would not stop any sexual predator from finding victims. At best, by limiting access to those teens who log on from locations other than schools and libraries, it would make them work incrementally harder to find kids willing to meet them. Measure this against the cost of restricted access, and there's no real benefit.

Earlier this week I created a Myspace presence for my campaign, and have found it quite effective, with several bands contacting me with offers to distribute campaign literature at their shows, etc.

With just a week left before the campaign season adjournment, it may be possible to stall this assault on free speech in the Senate, but only if someone there is brave enough to use the available procedural tricks to slow it down. Russ? Herb? C'mon, this one's not as tough as the Flagburning Amendment.

cnet story slashdot discussion

Misty Water-Colored Memories

by folkbum

A lot of the right Cheddarsphere--and blogosphere as a whole--have been up in arms lately about Howard Dean. I mentioned Dean in the post below, and, if you're a liberal blogger of the same vintage that I am, you probably have some of the same rose-colored memories of those heady days that I do.

I bring this all up because Glenn Greenwald posted yesterday a long excerpt of a Dean speech from February of 2003, a speech in which he made more accurate predictions about what would happen in Iraq than members of the Bush administration ever did.

Which leads me to ask my right-Cheddarspherean friends: Are you so mad at Dean all the time because he was right and you were wrong? I don't know what else explains it . . .

Blogging and Teaching

by folkbum

Any minute now, I will probably be marking my second appearance in USA Today (the first is here). I did a long interview last week with education reporter Greg Toppo, who contacted me for a story about teachers who blog.

I haven't really given the subject a lot of thought, except as it relates to me and my own situation. But, especially during and after the conversation with Toppo, I've been considering what I do, and how that's different from what many other teachers do.

The NEA Today did a story about teacher bloggers last September that began to touch a little bit on the issue:
Many teacher blogs look like personal diaries and serve as virtual lounges, a place to kvetch and share inspiration with colleagues [. . .].

The stories your colleagues could tell… and do! More than ever, under the anonymous cover of the Internet, teachers are downloading their daily frustrations, aggravations, and occasional satisfactions. "It's the first thing I do when I get home," says La Maestra, author of A Contar, the daily tale of a bilingual educator in Texas. [. . .]

For La Maestra or Ms. Frizzle or Posthipchick, the blog isn't just a teaching tool, aimed at motivating students. It's a way to remember the details of their jam-packed day, turn on their inner comedian, and activate their politics. After a day spent basically alone--well, except for those 34 kids--the blog serves as a welcome way to decompress, says the pseudonymous Ms. Frizzle.

It's cheap therapy--and it's particularly valuable for new teachers. You might not want to tell Mrs. Delaney in the next room that you dearly wish you'd looked twice at an accounting degree--but you can freely tell your tales of woe to strangers, who often offer a bit of nonjudgmental advice.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that those bloggers don't sound like me at all. I have said before that for me, I have a big, bright, red line that I do not cross. I don't talk about "school." Sure, I talk about education. I even talk about what's happening in the district. But I don't use this blog as a way to decompress or connect with colleagues (though I know many of my fellow MPS teachers do read me) or ever--ever--reveal anything personal about colleagues, students, or parents.

Greg Toppo was very interested in that in his interview. In fact, one of his first questions was, "You aren't anonymous--tell me about that." Apparently, he'd mostly been talking to teachers who don't use their names, and told me I was a rarity. He asked if I were worried about repercussions, and I told him that no, I had a strong union that I trusted to support me. Besides, I said, the superintendent knows who I am and what I think of the way he's running the district. He would have fired me years ago if he'd wanted.

Toppo mentioned one anonymous teacher in particular, First Year Teacher (who is now well beyond her first year). He read to me, incredulously, from this post, which is FYT's unsent letter of resignation after a particularly horrible year. Here's a piece of it:
First, there is a dangerous man in room 134. I have referred to him as Jackass, mostly, but you know who he is. I know that you are aware that he is tracking his female students menstrual cycles on a sheet of paper at his podium because I have told you this. I am certain that you know he also keeps a picture of a female student on his whiteboard and has been observed kissing it by students because, again, I have told you this. At Field Day recently he also laughed along side some male students as they stood behind a female teacher making comments like "This is the best view around!" and "Booty, booty, booty, booty, rockin' everywhere!" He has spit in the face of some male students, pushed a boy into the door, made fun of the accents of Hispanic students, and held votes as to whether students would be punished or made fun of. Again, I made you aware of each of these activities, though you've done nothing about it. I'm not sure how you sleep at night knowing you have allowed this man to be here for two years and are now planning to write him a "shining recommendation" though you aren't allowing him back here. It seems obvious that he is just going to go to another school and behave the same. It is people like you that make child abuse an easy crime to commit. You might want to deal with your issues concerning this.
You see my point.

There are any number of reasons why I would never write the above paragraph. The most obvious one is that you, the reader, know who I am and a clever Googler can figure out where I teach, opening the district up to a tremendous lawsuit. Additionally, while I have on occasion written that unsent-letter sort of thing, I know that the whole point behind those is the catharsis of writing, not the letting people see--and, while the principal may never have seen it, putting it on the blog is still a step beyond what this process calls for.

Most importantly, though, in a situation like the one FYT describes, the correct answer is not to post it in a blog, but to call the police, or, at least, social services. Telling the principal is the right first step but, when that principal doesn't follow through and I know that students' health and well-being are in danger, I have to act beyond sitting here and typing.

Greg Toppo, perhaps following the "there must be two sides, and they must disagree" model of journalism, wanted me to condemn FYT for this, and the "diary" style of teacher-blogging in general. And, yes, I believe that there is some exposure under FERPA in situations like those, but I also told Toppo that, you know, that isn't my style and I would never do it, but they made their choice. I would like to think that these teachers--some that I read and many, like FYT, that I don't--are smart enough people to know FERPA and to know, especially after three or more years of doing this kind of blogging, where their own lines are, and how not to cross them.

I figured out, over the course of my conversation with Toppo, why there is a difference between me and many of the other teacher-bloggers out there, and it has to do with why I started blogging in the first place. For me, blogging was never about having a diary or a journal or some other chronicle of my life. Yes, I occasionally bring on the personal, but I didn't start this blog as a way to keep in touch with friends or document the thousand mediocrities that are my daily life.

I started this blog to be political. I was brought to blogging, like a lot of Democrats who started in the first half of 2003, by Howard Dean and his campaign for president. The more other blogs I read, the more I thought, "Hey, I could do that." Even when writing about education elsewhere, such as at the defunct Open Source Politics or a blog a few other Milwaukee Public Schools teachers and I started to provide some alternative, positive views of our profession and union, I was more about the issues in education, the politics of it all. I never wanted, nor have I ever tried to have, the kind of blog where I talk about students--their lives, their foibles, their performance. (The exception is if the students are news, as when a student of mine won a Gates Millennium Scholarship recently). I don't even use this space to talk about lessons, activities, or units to bring into the classroom.

The personal was never political enough for me to blog about. And the early surrender of my anonymity meant, if I ever did get around to doing a different kind of blogging about teaching, there would be tremendous consequences. Hence, my big, bright, red line.

I don't know when the USA Today story is running; rest assured, I will tell you when I see it.

(An aside: Toppo asked me about maybe sending a photographer in case the story were to run with an accompanying picture--you know, photograph the the teacher-blogger in his natural futonian habitat. It confused me at first, as I'm sure others--such as First Year Teacher, linked above--are both more telegenic and more elemental to the story he's writing. Only after I hung up the phone did I realize that he asked me because I'm the only one not trying to stay anonymous!)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bentonville Uber Alles

Auf Wiedersehen Wal-Mart

Hi bloggerville and all you wingnuts looking in, I'm Keith Schmitz (krshorewood), happy to be here and pitch in while Jay's busy. I am with the mighty Grassroots Northshore, am currently with the group pushing to bring Air America to Milwaukee, which I will talk about from time to time, and am even on the board of a statewide business organization and can count many conservatives as my friends. After years of being bored and spolied by being represented by Tom Barrett, I am now part of the captives under F. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Hope I can in a small way inform most and irritate the rest. Here goes.

Say what you will about the Germans, but aside from kicking off a war or two they are basically good sense people. Something has to work or they don't use it.

Case in point Wal-Mart. They are saying good bye to Germany.

Turning lemons into big box lemonade, CNN quotes a retail industry watcher who lauds the move:

"It's a brilliant decision by Wal-Mart," said Love Goel, CEO of Growth Ventures, an investment firm focused on retailers. "Korea and Germany's retail market is too competitive. Secondly, consumers there really aren't aligned with Wal-Mart's core value proposition of offering bottom-barrel prices."

Well guess what Wal-Mart, you could have competed in Deutschland. It's easy. Don't mess with their culture. And as far as bottom-barrel prices, the average German is looking for quality goods and a quality lifestyle.

Don't get me wrong. what does right Wal-Mart does well. But this is a consumer economy and we need consumers to make it run. With this retail giant being the largest employer in the country paying some of the lowest wages in the country, it is major polluter -- of the market.

This Germanfest weekend it's sehr gut to a country that knows how to stand up for itself.

Vote early, though not often. That's wrong.

The Business Journal is runing one of those meaningless online polls asking whom you'd vote for in the Wisconsin governor's race. Notice that no independent candidates are listed.

Friday Random Ten

The Best Quote of the Year Edition
Hunter: "French sucks, for a lot of different reasons but mainly because I tried to learn it in high school, only to learn at the end that I had been taught Canadian French, which is pretty much like trying to learn how to play the oboe and finding out there's been a dead guy's thumb crammed inside it the whole damn time."

1. "Soulful Shade of Blue" Neko Case from The Tigers Have Spoken
2. "All Along the Watchtower" U2 from Rattle and Hum
3. "Marty and Lou" Peter Mulvey from The Knuckleball Suite (A close runner-up for Best Quote of the year: "These days, these days, I tell you. These days, it's all about the monkeys.")
4. "Unfamiliar Moon" Vance Gilbert from Unfamiliar Moon
5. "The Boxer" Simon and Garfunkel from The Best of . . .
6. "Black Boys on Mopeds" The Nields from Bob on the Ceiling
7. "When" Patty Larkin from Regrooving the Dream
8. "A Moment of Clarity" Carley Baer from Still Life
9. "Twilight" David Gray from Lost Songs
10. "Kissing in the Car" Jennifer Kimball from Veering from the Wave

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Where's the Logic in Gay Marriage Ban?

Guest blogger Steve Paske here. For once I'm going to resist the urge to argue against my fellow educators on the subject of what we should be paid. Though normally quite moderate, an article in my home State Minneapolis Star Tribune (I just returned from overseas and am with my parents for a few days), has brought out my left-leaning side on the gay marriage issue today.

It seems that the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the State's ban on gay marriage on Wednesday. Now here is an issue where I just don't understand Conservative logic. And remember that in any good arguement with a Conservative you will hear the line, "Conservative's arguements are based on reason and logic, liberal arguements are based on emotion."

But let's look at the logic behind the decision made in Washington State. In defending the Court's decision to uphold the ban, Justice Barbara Madsen wrote,

"The gay marriage ban is constitutional because the Legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival."

Essential to survival! I believe if I were to check out current world population figures there would be about seven billion people on the planet today, including about 300-million in the U.S.A. But by virtue of the conservative logic of this decision, we're to believe that human existance would be threatened if we allowed the marraige of gays.

One word: Absurd! For Justice Madsen to insinuate that the legalization of gay marraige could even put a dent in the birthrate is insane. Even if it did have a dramatic effect, let's say a 5% drop, I fail to see how that would hurt the State of Washington in any way.

The fact is that those who argue that gay marriage should not be allowed are generally basing their arguments on an emotion called faith. While I respect the rights of Christians to consider the act of homosexuality as immoral, I fail to see why their view of morality is what gets to dictate legislation.

This issue is precisely the reason we have a separation of Church and State. The founding fathers (who no doubt conservatives would point out, must have disdained homosexuality) wrote the Constitution in a manner that would protect the rights of individuals that didn't quite fit in with the most popular beliefs of the day.

In my opinion the only way to justify a ban on gay marraige would be to prove that it harms society, and to prove it in a logical way. Clearly the Court is stretching logic when it argues that homosexual marraige be outlawed because of the effect it might have on procreation and the survival of the species. If it's more kids they want I will happily volunteer to be a part of that process. And in that process there is no need to discriminate against people who are gay.

No Wonder I Feel so . . . Average

by folkbum

Chris Bowers at MyDD today points us to a study by CNN that tried, crazy as this sounds, to determine how close any given state was to the average of all states nationwide. Guess who's least abnormal?


From the CNN story:
The Badger State comes closer than any other to state-by-state averages on 12 key measures, according to a new analysis by CNN Polling Director Keating Holland that takes a fresh look at U.S. Census data.

"For years, politicians who put the presidential calendar together have wrestled with the question of which states really are the most typical or more representative of the country," Holland said. "Here is one way to determine that."

Holland identified 12 key statistics--four that measure race and ethnicity, four that look at income and education, and four that describe the typical neighborhood in each state--and added up how far each was from the figures for the average state on each measure. Holland said he chose these 12 different categories because "they have a strong impact on the political landscape in every state." [. . ]

So, what makes Wisconsin so special--or, to put it another way, what makes Wisconsin so average? It is about as close to the average state as you can get on most of the 12 measures included in this study.

For example, let's take the number of college graduates who live in each state. Wyoming is dead center among all 50 states, with 30.22% of its population holding a college degree. In Wisconsin, the number is 30.24%.

Or take housing values. On a state-by-state basis the median housing value, in North Carolina, is just over $111,600. The median housing value in Wisconsin is roughly $111,500. The Badger State is also fairly close to the state-by-state average on population growth, home ownership, population density, and the number of blacks and Hispanics who live there. The number of whites and blue-collar workers who live in Wisconsin is much further away from the average state's figures on those measures, but not enough to keep the Badger State from claiming the top spot.
Bowers wonders, upon looking at the full rankings, how they are mathematically possible:
The scale for the study was 0.0 to 50.0, with 50.0 being the most average. However, thirty-one states composing roughly 60% of the national population came in with scores below 25.0, which I suppose would be the "half-average" score. Overall, the median score for the study was around 20, a full 20% below "half average." Also, eight states were more "non-average" than Wisconsin was "average." My question is, how exactly does it work out that over half of the nation is not representative of the nation as a whole?
That is a good question, but perhaps not an unsurprising one coming from a resident of the very non-average state of Pennsylvania, which ranked 19th.

My question is, what do you think Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce will think of this? They love surveys that rank states for stuff.

American Family Association Attacks GLBT Students

Posted by grumbleberries
Regardless of how one may feel about the right for gay people to get married and Marriage Amendments, this type of amendment would, for the first time, write discrimination into the Wisconsin Constitution. The forces behind this amendment are without a doubt proponents of discrimination who will not give up ever! I have been around long enough to know that one cannot reason with religious zealots and I have no interest in doing so. I am very concerned, though, when a group that is called the American Family Association sends out this action alert that attacks gay/lesbian/bi/trans students, the National Education Association and this country's teachers.

I did not attend the NEA RA this year so I am strictly speaking as an experienced teacher who has seen just about everything in 30 years service. The AFA position on homosexuality in schools seems to be to completely ignore its existence. To insist that teachers and support staff not attempt to understand what approximately 10% of our students are going though would be tantamount to malpractice. Students are in classrooms every day working though what for them is a very confusing time sexually. GLBT populations have a very high rate of suicide, and are the targets of extremely cruel bullying. Are teachers supposed to ignore this type of behavior? One would only have to witness one such act of bullying in order to realize the immorality of the bullies. Sadly, there are those in the so called American Family Association that are be functioning as adult bullies. The AFA's position is immoral regarding these children. Thankfully, the National Education Association is being the adult on this issue.

The NEA, I am certain, is a proponent of all families that are an emotionally stable and healthy place for children to grow up. Teachers and support personnel welcome any family who wishes to become involved in their son or daughter's education. I have seen many marriages between "one man and one woman" that unfortunately have not been positive places for kids. Sexual, physical and emotional abuse is much more common than the AFA and their postcard image of families would like to admit. Unfortunately, many children who grow up abused eventually become the abuser. Failing to acknowledge and intervene in student problems in today's schools is a serious mistake and would continue the cycle. Schools are much more than reading, writing and arithmetic. A moral family orientated society would make sure that every student received a great public education.

Lastly, the AFA stated that the NEA refused to back a resolution concerning sexual contact between students and staff. In mentioning this, they seem to suggest that teachers and staff support sex with students. This insinuation truly exposes the AFA as NUTS! Thank goodness there are LAWS that prohibit sex with minors! Anyone crossing this line deserves the fullest prosecution of the law. It is ridiculous to insist that the NEA weigh in on something as illegal and immoral as this? Is it necessary that we continue to reinvent the wheel concerning everything in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance. Come to think of it doesn't the Pledge conclude with "with liberty and justice for ALL". One would hope that all students have the same rights. I wish this was all just a bad dream!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tax Cuts May Come at a Price

Posted by grumbleberries

No kidding! In a Washington Post article the U.S. Treasury Department just figures out that taxes may have to be raised or program cuts made to finance the Bush tax cuts. I don't know why they just didn't just ask Ms Penelope Puddleduck from Park Falls six years ago!

An Introduction

Posted by grumbleberries

Besides stating that a statewide candidate would be guest blogging, Jay also said that lesser known bloggers would also contribute. I hope that you'll welcome me as a new voice in the blog world.

First off, I'd like to thank Jay for the opportunity to guest blog at folkbum. I am honored to have been asked to help out while Jay spends some time pushed away from the keyboard.

As I am not as well known as Ben, I thought my first post should give the reader a little background about me so that you may have some idea of my frame of reference. I have been a long time lurker in the blog world and an occasional commenter. I recently started my own blog which can be found here. Being an educator for thirty years, the topics that tend to catch my eye and occupy my mind are those that are related to education and politics, but I really don't restrict myself. Whatever is making me grumble on a particular day is likely to end up in my blog. Jay has given us free reign so I look forward to this opportunity at folkbum.

Guest Post from US Senate candidate Ben Masel

Jay promised you guest blogging from a statewide candidate, and you weren't really expecting Mark Green, were you?
I'm jumping in quick to promote a mudwrestling match tonight, I've goaded Jessica McBride into having me as a guest on her show on WTMJ at 8:15.

In other news, the criminal charges I'd faced for collecting ballot access signatures at the Memorial Union at UW Madison on June 28 have disappeared. I showed up for my scheduled court date Monday and found nothing on the calendar. I headed to the District Attorney's office, where DA Brian Blanchard (who's unopposed for re-election) came out himself to let me know he wanted no part of the action.

I'll be filing civil actions against the Union, for violation of my campaign's free speech rights, and the individual UW Police officers for excessive force (pepperspray) and false arrest.

The Wisconsin Union Directorate has always held themselves out as a "private membership organization," able to exclude whoever they wish, and any activity they wish. It'll be interesting to see whether they hire private counsel, or as is their usual practice, avail themselves of taxpayer salaried University attorneys.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but somehow I ended up on the email distribution list of Bob Dohnal, publisher of what may be the most awkwardly-formated website (well, not counting Time Cube anyway), the Wisconsin Conservative Digest.

It's kind of fun, actually.

For example, all the kewl kids are talking about the Digest's "survey" this week, but I got the email touting it more than a week ago. I just thought the thing was so laughable it didn't need to be talked about. For example:
The questions were about current events and Conservative leaders. We wanted to find out how the people felt about these issues that are not fairly addressed in the mainstream media.

1. Should we immediately withdraw from Iraq?
There have been several referendums on this issue plus the President is supposed to be wildly unpopular on this issue so that I expected pretty much of a split on this question. I was wrong--95 percent of the respondents wanted us to stay the course. [. . .]

6. Rate Jim Sensenbrenner, poor, good or excellent.
Since Sensenbrenner has been involved in many contentious issues the last year, I thought he might get some bad marks from people in this area, but only four percent gave him a poor while 83 percent gave him an excellent.
This is the sort of thing that should make waves, right? I mean, dozens of bring-the-troops-home referenda passed last spring, yet 95% of the people polled here want us to stay the course?

The humor, of course, is provided by the juxtaposition of the seriousness with which Dohnal treats the results and the demographics of the survey itself: "Surveys were sent out," Dohnal writes, "to GOP leaders, members of the Heritage Foundation, subscribers to Human Events and other miscellaneous leaders throughout the state." So there you go--straight opinion on all the issues that don't get fair treatment in the mainstream media, as viewed by those outside the mainstream--who in some ways pride themselves on being outside of the mainstream.

We're through the looking glass, people.

But I'm not done; merely laughing at the thing is not enough. There are also issues raised here that need addressing, some seriously. For one, Dohnal flat-out lies in his commentary to this question:
5. The SAGE program is a program that lowers class sizes in low income areas. The question was, whether or not we should put more money into SAGE so that we can enlarge the CHOICE program in low income areas?
The teachers union has been successful in telling everyone that lower class sizes means better results, even though testing does not bring that out. Support for SAGE received a positive vote of 35 percent--65 percent were opposed to putting more money into SAGE.
Dohnal's assertion that the teachers union is lying to you is itself patently false. As this Department of Education summary indicates, the results of low class sizes are real and documented. Even here in Wisconsin, a team of non-partisan researchers reported (.doc) that there is a real and lasting advantage to SAGE classrooms.

More importantly, Dohnal spends the most ink (pixels) on State Senator Tom Reynolds. Dohnal is a consultant on Reynolds' campaign, and he can't believe anyone would dis his boss. Reynolds gets prominent placement all over the Digest, and Dohnal plugs the man all up and down the page. Here's the question from the "survey":
7. Rate Sen. Tom Reynolds, poor, good or excellent.
The same with Sen. Tom Reynolds. He has been heavily attacked by both the special interest for his votes against the automatic tax on gas, the ethanol mandate and the minimum markup laws amongst others. Spivak and Bice, the left wing loonies from the Milwaukee Journal have strongly made vicious, personal smears against Reynolds and his family, mainly because Dan Bice is strongly opposed to any Christians that are also conservative. We figured that this would show up in Reynolds' results. They didn't seem to have any effect as Reynolds only got a five percent poor rating while receiving a 70 percent excellent. Remember, some people will never rate other politicians as excellent, reserving those only for the Ronald Reagans of this world. It is obvious that no one would beat Reynolds in a primary as the Conservatives are strongly behind him.
Nothing like trying to make the silk purse. My question: At what point does Dohnal's use of his media outlet to promote his employer start to become an issue?

And, perhaps more snarkily, if wingnut Tom Reynolds can only gather 70% in a wingnut survey, how much trouble is Tom Reynolds in? And this is as good a time as any to remind you of Reynolds's opponent (who is not my employer), Jim Sullivan. You can contribute there or through my ActBlue page.


The kewl kids, by the way, who beat me to the party:
  • Xoff was first, wondering, if the Spice Boys are left-wing loonies, what that might make him.

  • Paul Soglin uses Dohnal's orbit to reassure himself: "Occasionally," he writes, "we may be confused on the left, but we have not lost our equilibrium or our sense of direction."

  • One Wisconsin Now's Jon Kraus conducted his own survey:
    One Wisconsin Now would like to announce that based on our own survey of
    “Wisconsin residents”, 100% of people we polled believe that the Wisconsin Conservative Digest survey is very out of touch with reality. Never mind that in this case we define Wisconsin residents as One Wisconsin Now’s 5 person staff, the margin of error is 0%.

All of that humor pales in comparison, of course, to Bob Dohnal's closing:
In the case of the democrats [sic], they have the nutty fringe that want to preserve every tree, eliminate God from the world, and are Socialists. It's hard to keep them happy, so they might run over to the Greens and vote. In the case of the Republicans, you have to energize the "hook and bullet" guys who drive pickups and SUVs, plus your "Right to Life" groups. The candidates who talk about the things that really matter to the voters will get them out and win. Those issues are basically the ones that affect their homes and families, their jobs, their autos, and their hobbies. If you get caught out in the Netherlands talking about the gold standard, and other esoteric problems you will go home empty handed.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go save some trees.

UPDATE: Ben at Badger Blues uses Dohnal as a jumping-off point for a longer, more thoughtful post.

McIlheran Watch: Health Care Quickie

Patrick McIlheran asks an astute question today:
He retired at the age of 50, after working at the company since the age of 20, and expects [General Motors] then to pay for his health care for the rest of his life, say another 30 years. Under what rational system does a company make such a promise?
Problem is--you knew there'd be a "problem is" as soon as you saw "astute," didn't you--McIlheran declines to answer his question.

The answer to the question of what kind of system promotes promises like that is this one. The American system.

Employer-based health insurance developed as a by-product of the post-war years, as US companies sought to sweeten the deals they offered potential employees, to make sure they got good ones. This situation is uniquely American. It exists nowhere else in the world, and, as the US has faced down a festering health care crisis for well over a decade now, the rest of the (Western) world has more doctors, higher satisfaction rates, universal coverage, and far cheaper costs than we do. And now employers are shedding benefit packages left and right, including at GM. Where will health coverage come from when the employer-based system dries up, and there's no good universal system to take its place?

Chickens, roosts, etc.

McIlheran, as is his wont, blames the union and the whiny worker he cites in that piece. In the meantime, some of the rest of us are talking about potential solutions instead of snarky questions.

Guest Bloggers

For a variety of reasons, August is going to be a busy month for me, and if it were just me behind the controls, posting would be light and even non-existent for long stretches.

Luckily, it won't be just me behind the controls, as I'm planning to bring in some guest bloggers, starting this week, to take up the slack. Some of them you'll recognize from the comments around here; some are just people I know from the 3-D and 2-D worlds. I still have a few invitations out, so I can't say who all is on the list just yet, but I can assure you that at least one candidate for state-wide office will be posting at least a little bit.

Oh, and since I still have room for a few more, let me know if you might be interested. I'm looking primarily for people who don't already have well-traveled blogs of their own, and who will keep up with some of the topics I tend to write about.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Who Let F. Jim Out?

I have met Bryan Kennedy's new campaign manager exactly once. In the brief conversation, I told her that Bryan needed to be on the air--and all he needed to air were 30-second spots of F. Jim Sensenbrenner being himself.

Because, when I read stories like this one, I have a hard time believing that the sensible people of Wisconsin's fifth congressional district would want to keep re-electing the putz.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I need basement guys

Any recommendations?

Ah, the joys of home ownership . . .

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Headline Expectations Game; or, a Lesson in Making Doyle Look Bad

In the last couple of weeks, I've been teaching a little bit of journamilism with some students at Marquette's Upward Bound program: This week, they've been writing op-eds, and last week, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Bob Purvis came out talk about what his job as the night police reporter entailed. But we never talked about headlines.

Which might be too bad, since more people read headlines than anything else in the paper--certainly more than the articles below them. A good headline can tell a whole story, though, so sometimes it's not the worst thing that no one reads the article. A bad--or misleading, or biased--headline can also tell a story, often a very different one from the story attached to it.

Take two headlines from two consecutive days' worth of Journal Sentinels: Campaign funds tallied today: Doyle expected to top Green in fund raising and Green raises more than Doyle this year: But governor is still sitting on bigger war chest.

One of the classic blogosphere tropes is outrage, feigned or real, that the media is biased or partisan against candidates or otherwise out to get us. I don't think that is usually true; I think more often that the media just isn't always as good as it could be.

And this headline story, I think, illustrates that point.

Below that first headline about the "tallies," which ran in yesterday's paper, was a story about what was known and expected at the time the article was written, which was, as you might guess from the headline, before the two candidates for governor submitted their campaign finance reports. If all you read was the headline, which indicates that Democrat Jim Doyle was expected to out-fundraise Republican Mark Green, you would think that the consensus or conventional wisdom or position of the experts cited in the article was that Doyle would raise more money in the reporting period than Green. However, the article says nothing of the sort, and even hints at the opposite:
By all accounts, when campaign finance reports are filed today, U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Green Bay) will have less money available than the man he wants to replace, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

The question is how much less. That will be among the things watched today by political analysts, pundits and--of course--the opposing campaign.

Since the last reports were filed in January, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker dropped out of the GOP race and a state procurement official was convicted in federal court of steering a state travel contract to a Doyle campaign donor.

"Once Walker got out of the race, you'd expect most of the Republican money would be flowing (to Green)," said Joe Heim, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. "If Doyle has raised substantially more money, that would not be a good sign for Green." [. . .] With Walker in the race, Republicans were splitting their money between him and Green.

Combined, the two raised more money than Doyle did in the second half of 2005, $1.3 million to $1.1 million.
I won't get into all the reasons why Walker and Green might have been able to collectively outraise Doyle in the last half of 2005, but the article, neither in the quoted bit here nor after that, never finds anyone to say that the trend would change, and that Democrats would out-contribute Republicans for the first half of 2006. Even that opening sentence doesn't say it--all it says is that Doyle would still have more money in the warchest than Green and, given his head-start on fundraising (one of the reasons the flow of cash has slowed in the last year), that shouldn't have been a surprise.

But, to be clear, the headline explicitly said, "Doyle expected to top Green in fund raising" for the reporting period, not in funds available.

Maybe, you might be thinking, I'm splitting hairs, and I should just get off my horse and go back to bed. But I don't think so. See, I think the headline game here is an expectations one: With the first story, despite no expert, pundit, or campaign official in the article saying so, we have the expectation that Doyle will outraise Green.

In the second headline--which completely and accurately reflects what the story below it in today's paper says--we find that that is not true, and Green outraised Doyle by some $59,000, or about 3.5% more than Doyle.

But now everyone who reads the headlines, or who reads the stories without noticing that they sometimes contradict the headlines, can shake their heads and wonder what's happening to Jim Doyle. "Wasn't he supposed to raise more money than Green?" they can ask. "I thought he was expected to do much better," they can say.

And, voilà, Jim Doyle's campaign is in trouble, all thanks to the headline expectations game.

Friday Random Ten

I realize it's been a while since I've had my stuff together to do this. Sorry about that.

The Long Time No See Edition

1. "If Love is not Enough" Peter Mulvey from Rapture
2. "The Drunkard" Dan Frechette from Lucky Day
3. "Fortissimo Wah" Jay Farrar from Sebastopol
4. "I Can See Your Aura" Erica Wheeler from Almost Like Tonight
5. "Nobody Girl" Ryan Adams from Gold
6. "Party Generation" Dar Williams from End of the Summer
7. "99.9 F°" Suzanne Vega from 99.9 F°
8. "Scotch and Chocolate" nickel Creek from Why Should the Fire Die?
9. "New Amsterdam" Elvis Costello from The Very Best of
10. "Jugband Blues" Pink Floyd from A Saucerful of Secrets

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ten Years After

It has been ten years since I finished college. As I start thinking about the class reunion, I realize that, while I may have minor infamy in a small circle of the blogosphere that I can brag about, some of my classmates have done some really cool stuff:
While the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program has one stated goal—visits for prisoners and their children—Troop 1500 goes far beyond that, taking a holistic approach to the mother-child relationship.

Since its inception in 1998, Troop 1500 has brought some 50 girls together to discuss their hopes, fears and aspirations—both with their mothers and among themselves. Troop 1500 not only facilitates regularly scheduled visits with the Scouts and their moms, but has tackled the difficult and fragile psychological issues of prisoners and their children.

Begun and led by social worker Julia Cuba of the Girl Scouts of the USA’s Lone Star Council, and evaluated by Dr. Darlene Grant, an associate professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin, Troop 1500 makes a group visit to the Gatesville Women’s Prison once a month. Back in Austin, the troop stays active with weekly meetings, allowing Cuba to keep close tabs on the girls’ family life, school and social activities, as well as their mothers’ progression through the penal system.

Once a month, Troop 1500 also meets for group therapy, giving the girls a place to express themselves and support one another in a structured and supportive environment. When the mothers matriculate from prison, their daughters stay on with Troop 1500 as long as they like, serving as mentors and role models to their friends and new members.

Addressing the emotional needs of these at-risk Scouts has paid remarkable dividends. In a 2003 Texas Monthly interview, Cuba said that 96 percent of the girls in Troop 1500 have stayed in school, and 98 percent have stayed out of the penal system.
My classmate Julia and her troop are the subject of a documentary, too, and there are more details about that at the link. Good for her. Good for them.

(And in a bit of odd worlds-collideness, my mother-in-law did work very similar to this in the Denver area up until a year or so ago.)

Republicans: NO to Special Ed, NO to Title I, NO to College Students--but YES to Vouchers

I used to think that former US Secretary of Education Rod Paige had more gall than anyone else ever to hold that position. After all, he presided over a "Texas Miracle" that everyone--including, almost certainly, Paige himself--knew was an absolute and utter hoodwinking, but which became the basis for No Child Left Behind. However, current DoEd Secretary Margaret Spellings is giving Paige a run for the money in the gall department.

After the report showing that private schools are no better than public schools squeaked meekly out of the DoEd in last Friday's document dump, Spellings had the nerve yesterday to stand next to Republican members of Congress and announce a proposal for a national voucher program. These vouchers would, of course, send students from their public schools into the private ones that we now know won't teach them any better, at a cost to taxpayers of $100 million.

Let's keep in mind some of what Republicans have proposed not spending money on (from both Congress and Bush):
  • Special Education: $500 million proposed cut
  • Title I, the program which targets aid to poor and minority students: $400 million proposed cut
  • Education Technology State Grants: $300 million proposed cut
  • Teacher Training Grants: $300 million proposed cut
  • Even Start, an early-childhood program: $100 million proposed cut
  • Upward Bound (which I'm teaching this summer): $300 million proposed cut
  • Arts in Education: $35 million proposed cut
  • Loans, grants and scholarships to college students: $300 million proposed cut
  • After-school programs: $900 million proposed cut
  • Vocational Education State Grants: $1.1 billion proposed cut
That is not a complete list, of course, but I think it should give you some sense of where the GOP's priorities are. The programs listed above are tested and proven programs for enhancing the quality of and access to education all across the country. Yet the Republicans are not interested in programs that provide support and assistance to the poor or minorities--or that might help (gasp!) members of the teachers unions improve the quality of their instruction. They only seem willing to support religious and private schools, knowing that those schools' ability to teach the students using those vouchers is not better (and knowing that the accountability is non-existent) than the public schools'.

Remember what I said here? Ignorance of reality in service of ideology is the ultimate state of being for much of the GOP. This is further proof of that if I ever saw it.

There's additional response to Spellings and the GOP's proposal all over the place. Some of the best I've seen has come from People for the American Way, Jim Horn, and Don Byrd, whose links are worth a read, too.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

WI-08 news: Numbers, Deception, and the Spice Boys' stupid snark

  • NUMBERS: The fundraising numbers are in for Wisconsin's 8th Congressional district, with (no surprise here) Republican John Gard leading the way:
    Gard, the Assembly speaker, raised nearly $265,000 in the second quarter this year and had $882,000 in the bank as of the end of last month, according to new campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Since the start of his campaign for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Mark Green, Gard has raised $1.35 million [. . .]

    His Republican rival for the party nomination, state Rep. Terri McCormick, raised $11,000 for the three-month period, and had less than $3,500 in the bank. McCormick has raised a grand total so far of $58,051 and has lent her campaign more than $66,000, for full tally of $124,436. [. . .]

    Democratic candidate Nancy Nusbaum, the former Brown County executive, pulled in nearly $188,000 during the last quarter and finished the period with about $340,000 in cash. She has raised a total of $632,247 and also has lent her campaign $225,000, which adds up to more than $857,000 for her effort.

    Fellow Democrat and Appleton physician Steve Kagen's largely self-funded campaign had $772,000 on hand at the end of the period, with Kagen raising just under $44,000 for the quarter. The owner of a chain of allergy clinics in the Fox Valley, Kagen has lent his campaign $1.45 million. Grand total in money raised or lent for Kagen: $1.58 million.

    Jamie Wall, the third Democrat in the race, raised $88,099 for the quarter and had $417,305 in the bank. Wall is a business consultant and former state development official who lives in Green Bay. He's raised a total of more than $600,000 and lent more than $100,000 to his campaign for a grand total of $715,694.
    Kevin of the conservative Lakeshore Laments blog provides more detail on all the filings: Gard, McCormick, Kagen, Nusbaum, and Wall.

    I'm a little disappointed our candidates aren't doing quite as well as Dems in other high-profile races, but I am glad to see that, combined (including Kagen's $1.45 million loan to his campaign), we've significantly outraised the Republicans.

    You can visit the websites of Kagen, Nusbaum, and Wall to contribute, or, through my ActBlue page, you can give to the WI-08 general fund--money that will be dispersed to the winner of the September 12 primary.

  • MORE NUMBERS: Steve Kagen has a new poll showing him winning both the primary (by 30+ points!) and the general against presumed Republican winner John Gard. You can see the SpiceBlog take, or you can read what Xoff found in Hotline.

  • DECEPTION: Speaking of the Spice Boys, they note in today's paper something else that Xoff beat them to--Gard's campaign misled both the workers and the management at an Appleton firetruck plant, where they were filming for a commercial. From the paper's article:
    One of the workers, a 50-year-old employee with 10 years at the company, told us this week that a friend who also works at Pierce approached her about appearing in the video because the camera crew needed another woman. The woman, who asked not to be identified because of concerns for her job, said she read lines for the camera about how Pierce makes "all kinds of firetrucks for governments, for Iraq, for all over the world."

    This is where things get tricky.

    The woman, a political independent who said she votes for whoever appears most honest, said she and her friend assumed that the tape was for use by Pierce. The company runs videos on flat-screen televisions at its plants so visitors can see what is being done at each. The videos are updated from time to time.

    During the hour that it took to film the spot, the woman said, no one told her or her friend the real purpose for the video. [. . .] What's more, a Pierce spokeswoman said this week that the Gard campaign never asked for permission to tape its employees saying anything. Ann Stawski said the camera crew was given the OK only to get some footage in a Pierce facility for use as a "backdrop" in an ad.
    Now that the flap has been raised, Gard rightfully will not use the workers' words in his commercial. Still, I think it raises some ethical questions about the way Gard is running that campaign, or at least about the suitability of the production company. If there's more like that going on, we could have a real problem with--and a real national spotlight on--Gard's deceptive campaign practices.

  • STUPID SNARK: However, I have to point out my favorite part of the Spivak and Bice article about the deceptive filming:
    Only after the filming was over were the two given a waiver to sign. The woman said she signed it quickly without reading the form because she had to return to her job doing detailing work on the trucks. Her friend signed hers but then asked to see it again so she could read it.

    "She said, 'That (video) was for John Gard,' " the woman recalled her friend remarking. "I said, 'Who the hell is that?' "

    She explained, "I didn't even know who was running for the Senate."

    Um, Gard is running for Congress, actually.

    "See how much I know."
    See how much they know: The last I checked, the Senate was a part of Congress! See we have this bi-cameral legislature with two bodies that make up the Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    So there you go, folks: I read the Spice Boys, so you don't have to.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

As long as we're talking about McIlheran: Residency

On Sunday, I posted a long series of links and commentary about the Milwaukee Public Schools, and I included a reference to--and quoted from--what I called "an unsigned op-ed" about the MPS residency requirement.

When I first read that op-ed--it was some time before I got around to linking it--I thought it had had Patrick McIlheran's name in the byline. So when I wanted to dredge it up, I first searched through his old columns, where I could not find it. Then I Googled his name and keywords like "residency" to find it, which was also fruitless. When I did find it and finally re-read it, I thought it was in his style, even. But since there was no name on the page I would link to, I didn't feel I could make the attribution.

But last night I got an email from a reader who thought he remembered McIlheran's name on the original--and thought so independent of my telling anyone about it. Still, without a physical paper in hand from that day or some other evidence, I left it alone.

While researching the story below, however, I read Bruce Murphy's June 27 Milwaukee Magazine column, where he notes (way at the bottom):
On Sunday, columnist Patrick McIlhern compounded the error in a column arguing that residency may need to be reconsidered.
The date and the content match; we have a winner.

The question is, why was that piece stripped of its byline? I'm willing to believe accident, but it'd be nice to have some answers.

McIlheran Watch: Living in the Past on Vouchers

I have a half-finsihed post about P-Mac and the economy, but I'll let it simmer a while longer while we talk about vouchers.

McIlheran (gotta make sure he knows I spell his name right) blogs today about Milwaukee Magazine columnist Bruce Murphy's new piece. In that column, Murphy mentions the Department of Education study I wrote about on Saturday, using its good news for public schools as a jumping-off point to write his own version of McIlheran Watch. Murphy calls McIlheran a parrot for simply repeating Republican talking points instead of thinking critically. While I have long considered that a key element of the McIlheran Formula, apparently when Murphy says it--and misspells P-Mac's name--it ruffles the man's feathers. (rimshot) Here's MacIlheran:
What [Murphy]’s doing is droning on about school choice, saying something about how nothing’s certain about it or some such. He takes some time out to cite me as being a party ideologist on the subject because of a column I wrote last October in which I said suburban Republicans have little to gain from supporting school choice and in fact pay some price.

My logic, and it stems from what several nonpartisan political observers have mentioned to me, is that the program arouses opposition from teachers unions statewide, even prompting that union in three successive elections to campaign against suburban and outstate lawmakers who back school choice. Meanwhile, the program directly benefits no one in any suburban or outstate area--its aid goes entirely to parents and children in Milwaukee. In fact, groups opposed to school choice have long contended--incorrectly--that school choice in Milwaukee costs the rest of the state’s schools money. [. . .]

Whatever. He says I’m not cynical enough. Then he goes and says I have a thing for Republicans because I referred to “mayors from nice Republican places” in an ironical aside about local officials who didn’t like the Taxpayer Protection Amendment. In which case, it wasn’t a case of his being admirably cynical but of perhaps being insufficiently conscious while reading.
This is what makes my task here so easy: It's not just that P-Mac is partisan--I would be nothing less were I cursed with his job--it's that he doesn't learn, and he undercuts his own arguments so terribly much. Let's start with the whole matter of whether or not choice costs or benefits the rest of the state.

I've explained to McIlheran before that, in fact, for one biennial budget cycle, legislators did fund the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program's vouchers by reducing general aid to all districts in the state--in fact, costing most non-Milwaukee districts money. The "contended" link from McIlheran's post goes to a page from the People for the American Way's website, which is an archived html version of a 2002 study--a study that was accurate at the time it was completed, and which now I can't even find by looking through PfAW's Public Education section. I wonder if he's kept this page bookmarked for just such an occasion when pretending the past is the present would make him look good?

Actually, he's trying to contrast the PfAW study with a contemporaneously old Journal Sentinel article (the link on "incorrectly") that supposedly disproves it. Let's compare, shall we?
PfAW: Prior to the 2001-02 school year, when the legislature essentially created a separate line item in the general budget for the voucher program, half these costs were subtracted from state equalization aid to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), and the other half was taken away from the aid for Wisconsin’s other 425 school districts. If MPS and other districts wanted to recover the lost revenue, they would have needed to raise local property taxes.

Journal Sentinel: Under a system in place for the past two years, the state gets the $49 million for vouchers by reducing the aid it pays to each school district in Wisconsin. Half the money comes from aid to Milwaukee Public Schools, the other half from aid to other districts. Districts can raise property taxes to replace the lost aid. In estimating its overall aid package, the state assumes all districts will do so, said Russ Kava, an analyst in the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Since state aid is proportional to the total of local property taxes around Wisconsin, the higher taxes mean a larger pool of state aid. [. . .] Combining the deduction for choice and the bigger aid pool, MPS has a net loss of $22.1 million. Other districts, together, have a net gain of $5.8 million, although nearly 240 individual districts outside Milwaukee have net losses.
Where is the contradiction? Is it that districts besides those 240 had net gains--gains that came only from raising property taxes to offset losses? Maybe. In either case, PfAW was accurate when it said vouchers took money from other districts; I was accurate when I pointed it out to P-Mac in February. And if McIlheran is trying to say that higher taxes for state taxpayers is an overall boon . . . well, that might require even more of an examination of his conservative credentials.

What about now?, you might be asking, recognizing that it's not 2002 anymore, and suburban and outstate Republicans are no longer eager to tinker with the funding formula. Do vouchers hurt or help school districts outside Milwaukee? The best way to answer that might be to consider what would happen were the program to vanish. Luckily, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau did just that; it became the basis for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's neglected pleas last winter to adjust the funding formula. Seth from In Effect has posted the LFB's letter here (.pdf), and it makes it pretty clear: If the voucher program vanished, and all the students in the progam ended up at MPS, the state's other school districts would lose between $74 million and $121 million in state general aid. That money would either have to be made up by property tax increases--as happened in the 1999-2001 biennium--or by cutting services drastically.

Knowing that, I would like to see McIlheran's explanation for how he can write (from his original October column, as quoted by Murphy), "suburban Republicans’ support for school choice has been pretty selfless. None of that money flows to their constituents.” They know the school districts they represent would suffer were choice to end. Period. Regardless of whether any choice money flows into their districts. (Don't forget that Alberta Darling keeps trying to change that.) They will not run to the Democrats' aid--to Milwaukee taxpayers' aid--knowing that the end of the voucher program would spike taxes for their constituents. It may have been true in 2001, when that Journal Sentinel article was published, that supporting choice would hurt suburban Republicans. But it is now now, not then.

Be nice if McIlheran learned that.

Murphy's column will eventually be archived here, so if the link above doesn't have a McIlheran story to it (scroll down), try this one.

Missing the point on stem cells

I don't have a lot of time for this this morning, but I wanted to write briefly about Shark and Shepherd blogger Rick Esenberg's op-ed on stem cells. He promised me that I would hate it, and, while I think "hate" is too strong a word for my reaction, I think he misses a major point when he writes about "embro-destructive research" in this morning's paper:
While the battle over terminology is part of the political give-and-take, it threatens to obscure what is at stake. The debate is not about whether science or research is good. It isn't even entirely about whether it is good to cure diseases.

Rather, the issue is what ethical limits we ought to place on curing diseases. For some, this is a religious question. Proponents of embryo-destructive research and cloning argue that this ought to take it out of the realm of public debate. One can imagine the bumper stickers. "If you're against killing embryos, don't clone one." "Keep your laws off my lab." [. . .]

And human life is what this debate is about. In countenancing embryo-destructive research and cloning, we would be (and, to some extent, have been) crossing a line that has not yet been crossed--at least outside of Nazi Germany and a few other totalitarian states. We would, for the first time, be permitting the creation and destruction of distinct human entities for research. [. . .]

There are "scholars"--some holding prestigious chairs at Ivy League universities--who argue that infanticide can be justified because a newborn is no more self-conscious than a fetus. She has no more ability to reason and has not yet come to be aware of and to value her own life. If science comes to tell us that the creation of infants (perhaps genetically altered to prevent higher thought) are just the thing for the treatment of a disease, do we permit it?
Aside from the slippery-slope argument with no basis in fact--and, for that matter, the oblique Dr. Mengele reference--Rick is trying to make the point that scientists (and possibly US Senators) who are calling for more stem cell lines to research than those in play back in 2001 are using language to mask what they're really up to. Rick, a lawyer, uses some misdirection of his own: "Keep your laws off my lab" distracts us while he frames the debate for himself with that whole "embryo-destructive research and cloning" thing.

But even while doing so, Rick misses a serious point about the current state of embryonic stem cell research--and embryos in general--in this country. There are, by most news accounts I've seen, about 400,000 embryos cryogenically frozen right now, whose parents, having no further need of them for fertility treatments, are just leaving them sit. Many of those parents want to allow scientists to use those embryos to start new stem cell lines of research, replacing the sometimes-unusable lines scientists were restricted to back in 2001.

And the 400,000 embryos, if they don't get used for science, will be destroyed.

So there's the real frame: I don't care if you call it "embryo-destructive" or not, Rick, as long as you acknowledge that, in the end, those embryos will be destroyed anyway. You have to answer for why destruction with the benefit of bolstering scientific research is worse somehow than destruction out of wastefulness.

To me, there's no language that can mask that hole in your argument.

Update: Go read Mixter. Her post is excellent.