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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Judge Ziegler: End of the line

Judge Annette Ziegler and consultant Mark Graul (that ought to inspire confidence in conservatives all across the state) never did enter the contest, but I imagine it would have looked something like this:
At any rate, the contest deadline has passed along with 2006. The winner will be announced tomorrow. Have a safe and reasonably happy new year, everyone.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Judge Ziegler: Cartoon? New Orleanian? Kiwi?

Well, the news that Judge Annette Ziegler has committed perhaps the most unpardonable sin among conservative bloggers--she hasn't taken any sick days--may indeed have her wishing that this contest was the worst news for her this week.

You have just one more day to get your entries in--this is the last set unless I get some more (hint, hint). So you may as well use the comments here to recommend your favorite. Not that Aaron and I would necessarily listen to you, but you can at least let your favorite photoshoppers know they did well in your eyes."New Zealand" by contest co-sponsor Aaron; "Flintstones" by me; "Justice League" by Casper; and "Katrina" by Puba. Hey, Mark Graul--still waiting on your entry!

Friday, December 29, 2006

You Won't Have Saddam Hussein to Pick Lice Out of Anymore

His demise is not surprising. But see if you can guess what caught my attention in this blurb:
Some Arab media, including Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya and the U.S.-financed Al-Hurrah, reported about an hour before daylight Saturday (about 10 p.m. EST Friday) that Saddam had been executed.
Yes, boys and girls, our US-sponsored TV news channell is called Al-Hurrah. Hope may not be a plan, but it is, apparently, just fine for news.

This may be your only chance

My friend Kenneth is giving it to you:
I've been working on a novella/novel that basically consists of an interview with God. I've used my imagination to come up with as many questions as possible, but I want to ask for your help in coming up with more questions. The premise is that God grants an interview with one human being and that person can ask as many questions as they want. People send the reporter questions, so it isn't just a single person's point of view.

So, if you could ask God a question, what would it be?
I'm still working on mine. It would probably be something along the lines of, "You're kidding, right?" Anyway, go ask your question. I'll let you know when the answers come.

Judge Ziegler: TV Star

"24" submitted by Cantankerous; "Star Trek" submitted by Dave Diamond.

Of course, as part of the Liberal Hollywood Elite, Judge Zielger must be going straight, well, here:
Submitted by contest co-sponsor, Aaron.

There's still time to get your contest entries submitted!

Friday Random Ten

The Have You Met Bert? Edition
Bert will be sitting in with the band here at the blog for a while. Show him love while he's here. We may get another guest player or two as well.

1. "Early" Victoria Williams from Going Driftless
2. "Folksingers are Boring" Andrew Calhoun from Shadow of a WIng
3. "Train to Jackson" Jeffrey Foucault from Ghost Repeater
4. "The Captain" Kasey Chambers from The Captain
5. "Pound of Prevention" Vance Gilbert from Fugitives
6. "Closer to You" Dan Bern from Fleeting Days
7. "New Thing Now" Shawn Colvin from A Few Small Repairs
8. "El Otro Lado" Josh Rouse from Subtitulo
9. "Hallelujah" Jeff Buckley from Grace
10. "Don't Blame Me" Thelonious Monk from Straight No Chaser

Thursday, December 28, 2006

More hippie types denouncing the war

by Bert

To the likes of George Will, James Baker, many generals, and many grunts, we can add Gerald Ford and Donald Trump to the gaggle of poorly groomed, knee-jerk Marxists who criticize George Bush, his war, and, therefore, America itself.

Donald, the titan of capitalism, told Maureen Down in her column that came out last Saturday:

"No matter how long we stay in Iraq, no matter how many soldiers we send, the day we leave, the meanest, most vicious, most brilliant man in the country, a man who makes Saddam Hussein look like a baby, will take over and spit on the American flag. Bush will go down as the worst and the by far the dumbest president in history."

Just today, papers are releasing what the late Republican President Ford had told Bob Woodward in July, 2004:

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

I'll admit that Ford's criticism is mild and restrained. Nevertheless, back in the bad old days when right wing hyenas felt they could get away with destroying Natalie Maines and Cindy Sheehan, even the soft jabs that Ford is delivering here would have earned him charges that he supported terrorism, etc., blah, blah, blah.

McIlheran Watch: Quiverfullofit

Sometimes I feel what Batman must feel if he goes on vacation only to find out that the Joker has been hard at work--what a mess to clean up. It's so bad that even with several heroic others steping in, there's an overwhelming pile of Patrick McIlheran-flavored baloney yet to address. I may not get to all of it anytime soon.

Burt I need to start with McIlheran's column from yesterday, on the "Quiverfull" movement. Now, I got no beef with people who want a lot of kids (I want exactly zero, but to each his or her own, I say), and I certainly would not say, as P-Mac quotes Pam Spaulding as saying, that I "imagine masses of bible beaters shooting out of wombs." Of course, I also wouldn't truncate Pam's context, as McIlheran did--Pam's concerned not about real battle, but about future voting habits.

It is, in fact, the Quiverfulls themselves who see what they do as a part of a battle, despite McIlheran's insistence that Pam's "rudeness clashes with the more gentle reality of big-family Christians around Wisconsin. This is less about breeding weapons for a culture war and more like putting daisies in gun barrels." The name of the movement evokes arrows in a quiver, and comes from Psalm 127:
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.
What makes McIlheran's daisy-in-a-gun-barrel statement so very offensive is that he devotes a considerable part of his column to one such happy man, Matt Trewhella. I particularly love this line: "Not that Trewhella doesn't do politics. He's a leader of Missionaries to the Preborn, which protests abortion."

Saying that Trewhella "protests abortion" is a like saying that Michael Jackson is quirky. Or that Brett Favre plays a little football. Among the things Trewhella is best known for is getting himself arrested, repeatedly, for harassing and abusing people outside of family-planning clinics, both here in Milwaukee and all over the country. His group famously handed out bullet-shaped tracts at Milwaukee schools in the aftermath of Columbine and other school shootings. He supports killing abortion providers as "justifiable homicide," and has praised and defended their murderers. Trewhella also wants his followers to "buy each of [their] children an SKS rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition."

Now, I don't know for a fact that Trewhella (or any of the other families McIlheran mentions) is buying his kids Armor of God PJs and reading Birthing God's Mighty Warriors as bedtime stories. But McIlheran tries to structure the article to make people like me--and people like Pam Spaulding, who see the Quiverfull rhetoric as being war-like and dangerous--out to be the warring ones, all the while ignoring the very violent words (and, indeed, deeds) of the very people he praises.

(And I love Steve Gilliard's reaction to the Quiverfulls. Steve, like Pam, is black, but McIlheran doesn't quote him: "When black women have eight or nine kids, they're called welfare queens and looked down as parasites. Why not these people?" McIlheran has his own opinions about welfare, which seem to clash with his views on the Quiverfulls.)

Thursday Thumbs

Another in a series wherein I express my approval or disapproval concerning news of the week, happenings, or other trivia through a cute graphic, rather than with my usual long, hard-to-follow, and humorless rants and rambling.

thumbs downThumbs down to Fred Kessler. I like the guy, but his gift-card tax is a stupid idea.

thumbs upThumbs up to ClearChannel, the media giant that decided that maybe there is a market in Madison for explicitly liberal radio. (And all you conservatives were so sure it was dead.)

thumbs downThumbs down to Judge Annette Ziegler. You'd think I was being hard enough on her already, but she apparently doesn't know simple campaign techniques. And she hasn't entered our contest yet.

thumbs upThumbs up to the Brew City Brawler, for showing us all how your local daily buries the lead--and makes you believe that which isn't true.

thumbs upThumbs up to me; I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but I don't think they edited it too much.

thumbs downThumbs down to stifling information that makes you look bad. That list is bad enough, but Jonathan Singer and Gretchen Schuldt can both find things to add.

thumbs upThumbs up to Milwaukee County's unions. They at least know how to play the game so that everyone wins, even if some others we could name would rather pick up their toys and go home.

Judge Ziegler: DaVinci's favorite model

To the left, we see, according to Jim McGuigan, that she posed for DaVinci's Last Supper fresco. To the right, you see that Fred Dooley thinks he knows who the model was for DaVinci's masterpiece, Mona Lisa.

Do you know of any other modeling gigs Judge Ziegler may have had? Then enter our contest!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Another Cold Day in Wisconsin

But that's okay; Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Judge Annette Ziegler is spending some time in Florida, as seen in these entries to the contest. On the left is one from Watchdog Milwaukee's Jim McGuigan; on the right is my favorite among the others I mocked up at the start of the contest.

Remember to get your entries in by December 31!

RIP, Gerald Ford

Ford took the oath of office just weeks before I was born, and was out of office before I was out of the crib. But he was a president, after all, and not all that bad given the circumstances.

I endorse what Steve Benen has to say.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I feel bad

James Brown is dead. Plaisted Writes better than I do.

Happy Boxing Day! And that pesky contest reminder.

I'm working up to posting some real content; I'm mostly still sleeping off the mashed potatoes. But here's an update on the Judge Ziegler situation.

The photo to your left there is from Patrick at Badger Blogger; it's much nicer than my own North Pole pic. If you don't already know why Judge Annette Ziegler seems to be freezing herself posing there, well, it's all part of the contest.

I'm actually willing to believe Ziegler's campaign people who said (Madison TV News and Madison paper) it was a campaign volunteer testing whether some web software would work that led to the seeming deception her website. The volunteer doctored photos to make it look like Judge Ziegler had visited places she had not. I certainly don't think (contra DICTA), that it's a real violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct--in part because her campaign did act quickly to take the photos down once word got out--and replaced them with real photos from (mostly) the real places in question.

Carrie Lynch caught the doctoring, I promoted it, and Aaron took it a step further prompting a contest. The Wisconsin State Journal story linked above does give credit to "left-wing bloggers" for discovering the photos, though it doesn't credit anyone in particular. One of the people involved in the WKOW-TV report (which didn't mention bloggers at all) gives us credit at his own blog, even plugging the contest.

I'll be posting more entries every day as I receive them (I have at least three more) up until December 31, the contest deadline. The prize is the chance to do a podcast with me and Aaron. Email me your jpgs or gifs, or post them to your own blog (try to send me a link, though), and good luck!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays, and Contest Reminder

That Judge Ziegler sure gets around, doesn't she?

This is just a friendly reminder that Aaron and I are running a bi-partisan photoshop contest to liven your holiday spirit. The rules and explanations are here. As you can see from the 'shopping I've done, you don't have to be an expert (or even have Adobe Photoshop, as I clearly don't). We've got entries from a few people, which we'll start posting in another couple of days, but the contest is still wide open.

Email me or Aaron (sub2change-at-gmail-dot-com) with your (PG-rated) pics!

And enjoy the holidays!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Selective memory on voter fraud prosecutions

Yesterday, Donovan Riley reached a plea bargain on his charges of voting twice in the 2000 presidential election. The allegations about Riley surfaced when the pro-school-voucher group All Children Matter--a group with problems of its own--targeted him, since he was running in the primary against voucher supporter Democrat Jeff Plale.

Local wingnut hero Waukesha County DA Paul Bucher, who this year lost his own primary against a guy who thought he was Batman, is being lauded by the conservative half of the Cheddarsphere today for securing the plea bargain. The plea bargain includes a number of provisions that Riley pleaded to, including the loss of his law licenses and a $10,000 fine, but no jail time--one of the perks of getting a plea bargain, I guess. Am I sounding repetitive about the plea bargain? It's for a reason. This reason:
Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher goes out strong by getting ex-State Senate candidate Donovan Riley to give up his law license [. . .] There's a difference between Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties. One set of prosecutors gets tough on vote fraud, while the other plea bargains.
I repeated the phrase "plea bargain" so much because I wanted its appearance at the end of Sean Hackbarth's post to stand out. See, the conservative half of the Cheddarsphere loves them some Paul Bucher and hates them some E. Michael McCann, the outgoing DA of Milwaukee County, and they try to put down McCann every chance they get. Sean here is typical; Owen and Wiggy make the same implication that McCann is somehow light on vote fraud prosecutions. But Sean seems to miss the point entirely that Bucher pulled a McCann--negotiating a plea deal instead of throwing the book at Riley.

And here's what's even funnier: The story Sean linked to (a link I included, so you can read it, too), is the story of McCann's prosecution of a group that fraudulently filled out absentee ballots during the 2003 recall of County Board President Lee Holloway. And in the story, we learn that McCann won jail time for a convicted fraudster--something Paul Bucher didn't get in the Riley case. The story was mainly about how McCann cut a deal with seven defendants on dozens of charges, securing more voter fraud convictions in a single day than Paul Bucher has in his career.

Many of the conservative bloggers, I think, are still upset over the tire-slashing episode from 2004, which McCann did plead out. That secured actual convictions for four of the five perpetrators who otherwise would have walked (the one who didn't plead got a not guilty verdict from the jury). The bloggers wanted the slashers to face the firing squad, or something, but those four convictions (again, on one day) are still more than Bucher ever got in his entire career.

For the record, want to know the total number of convictions for voter fraud that Paul Bucher has earned in his entire career? One--Donovan Riley.

A Photoshop Contest!

We all had a good larf at Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Annette Ziegler this week. I won't rehash the story, but let's just say she made a rookie photoshopping mistake and opened herself up to exactly the kind of criticism and ridicule we bloggers are so good at. She's long since fixed the error of her ways, but the idea is out there, and, well, taking on a life of its own. Yesterday I saw this . . .
Lunar Base Justice Center. . . and I nearly died of laughter. That's Aaron at Subject to Change going for, as he calls it, "the gusto."

So I real quick did a little work of my own, and came up with this one, of Judge Ziegler keeping the peace in Bagdhad:
Green Zone Justice Center

Aaron and I did a bit of emailing late last night and decided this was too much fun to keep to ourselves, so, we're having a contest. You, too can grab this photo . . .
. . . and do your best. The contest deadline is 12/31/06, so you have a few days to think of a doozy and knock it out. I will post all submissions, and Aaron and I will pick a winner. The prize is the opportunity to do a podcast with me and Aaron on Aaron's podcast. The only reqirement, I think, is to keep the photos PG-rated. I don't run that kind of blog, 'kay?

You can email your submissions (in GIF or JPG format) to me. Have fun, be creative, and, most of all, don't send me any cease and desist letters, Judge Ziegler, please please please.

UPDATE: Just a reminder, the soon-retiring Carrie Lynch of What's Left got the scoop on the picture problems originally. But Madison TV station WKOW ran the story yesterday with nary a mention that the blogs scooped them. On the bright side, it might make for a more exciting contest!

Friday Random Ten

The Harry Potternalia Edition
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: Though I do not have a publication date yet, I am announcing the title of my next book. It will be called Little Timmy Mitchell and the Closet of Doom*. I'm sure your local bookseller will be happy to pre-order it for you.

1. "Faking" Melissa Ferrick from Willing to Wait
2. "Twilight" Shawn Colvin from Cover Girl
3. "City Love" John Mayer from Room for Squares
4. "I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll" Gillian Welch from Time (The Revelator)
5. "Pocket" Sons of the Never Wrong from 4 Ever On
6. "Georgia O" The Nields from Play
7. "All I Really Want to Do" Bill Camplin from Bob Dyan: Project One
8. "Astronaut Dreams" Peter Mayer from Elements
9. "Who Woulda Thunk It" Greg Brown from In the Dark with You
10. "You're Still Standing There" Lucy Kaplansky from Every Single Day

* I actually wrote a short story by that name in high school. I thought it was good at the time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thursday Thumbs

Another in a series wherein I express my approval or disapproval concerning news of the week, happenings, or other trivia through a cute graphic, rather than with my usual long, hard-to-follow, and humorless rants and rambling.

thumbs upThumbs up to you, you person of the year, you.

thumbs downThumbs down to Microsoft. I remember the old "Windows 95=Mac 88." We can now say "Vista=Jaguar."

thumbs downThumbs down to anti-Muslim bigotry. Keith Ellison, by the way, was born in this country to Christian parents. Jeebus save Ellison from his fellow Congressmen.

thumbs downThumbs down to anti-Muslim bigotry. (It's a different link this time; it's about Obama.)

thumbs upThumbs up to this metaphor: I would also like a president willing to stand up for me in a bar fight.

thumbs downThumbs down to Judge Zeigler, who still has geography issues.

thumbs upThumbs up to Aaron, who is walking us through all seventy-bleeping-nine of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. Too bad for Aaron that the Decider done decided to ignore the ISG.

thumbs downThumbs down to the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Would I like $100,000 a year? Yes. From a private company like Edison? No way.

thumbs upThumbs up to Midwest Airlines, and their cookies. And, sad to say, some of us need those extra two inches.

thumbs downThumbs down to people who don't understand the concept of satire. Not that I favor censorship in any form, however.

What are you thumbing up and down this week?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What I Want for Christmas

Guest bloggers; email me if you're interested in learning a trade.

Conservative Revisionist History on Gov. Doyle and Tobacco

See UPDATE below . . . and another important UPDATE, too

Robert Flessas is a Town of Brookfield Supervisor who blogs, in a couple of places, from a conservative, anti-government perspective (indeed, one of his blogs is titled "Public Trough"). And, though I disagree with his perspective, he's certainly entitled to his own opinion. He is not, however, entitled to his own facts. Today, at both of his blogs, he's posted an anti-Doyle screed that invents a history out of whole cloth. (UPDATED: See below--the posts seem to have been deleted.)

Flessas is writing about the most recent floating of that perennial favorite trial balloon, raising the cigarette tax. The revenue such a tax would generate would be spent on smoking cessation and prevention as well as funding reforms to the health care system in the state. It's not a new idea. But here's a piece of Flessas's post; see if you can spot the problem:
A recent article appearing in the paper quoted Doyle as saying, " . . . he sees the benefit of raising the cigarette tax to reduce smoking and the cost of smoking-related illnesses but would favor it only if the additional revenue was guaranteed to be isolated for health care."

Where did we hear that line before? Let's take a walk down memory lane.

About 6 years ago, the state of Wisconsin settled with tobacco companies and received almost $6 Billion dollars earmarked to curb the effects of smoking and prevent young people from starting.

When Doyle was our attorney general, he scoffed at attempts to use the settlement for anything other than tobacco prevention. But, when he was elected to his first term as governor, Doyle and our legislators sold the rights to the money, and used the funds to balance a huge state budget deficit created by our pension grubbing, premium healthcare state officials.

So, why should we believe Doyle's contention now?
I realize we're talking about ancient history here--things that happened more than half a decade ago--so if your memory fails you, as Flessas's apparently has, I can forgive you. But Flessas's assertion that "when he was elected to his first term as governor, Doyle [. . .] sold the rights to the money" is patently false. 100% false. Falser than false can be.

It is entirely true that a few budget cycles ago, the state was facing a massively ugly deficit, and the choices for plugging the hole seemed to be eliminating revenue sharing with municipalities, cutting school equalization aid, or selling off the tobacco settlement money for bonds. The settlement money was sold off in May, 2002. For those of you keeping score at home, May, 2002 is six months before Doyle was elected, eight months before he took office, and a full year before he passed his first budget.

The real fault lies with then-Governor Scott McCallum, and such shining stars of the Joint Finance Committee as then-Rep. (and now unemployed) John Gard and then-Sen. (and now ex-con) Brian Burke.

Flessas's revision of history is even worse than just getting the timeline wrong; he implies a certain level of flip-floppitiness on Doyle's part, ascribing to him a seeming desire to shaft anti-smoking efforts. In fact, Gov. Doyle has been a steady advocate of smoking prevention ever since he won our settlement as Atorney General back in 1998.*

In 1999, Doyle publicly lambasted then-Gov. (and now-presidential candidate) Tommy Thompson, who used his very busy veto pen to cut funding from that settlement for anti-smoking campaigns. And that was just the beginning of Doyle's critiques of how the money was used for other purposes. He nailed McCallum on the campaign trail in 2002 for selling the money, and investigated, among his first acts, buying back some of the money so we could see residual income on at least something.

If Flessas has read the AP story going around about the proposed dollar-a-pack tax, he would have read how Gov. Doyle "is still angry that lawmakers spent the state's tobacco settlement money in one lump sum to balance the budget in 2002." That might have been enough to save Flessas the embarrassment here.

In the end, when Flessas asks why we should believe Doyle "now," I would answer, simply, that since Doyle has maintained a consistent position since suing the tobacco companies a decade ago, it's easy to believe him.

I've emailed Flessas, as his blogs don't take comments, asking for a correction. If and when he posts that correction, I'll let you know.

UPDATE: Flessas has posted a separate correction at his Blogger-powered blog, and he has also amended his Brookfield Now blog post. The original post (still prominently linked to from makes no note of the correction.

UPDATE, Friday, 5:30 AM: Flessas seems to have deleted the offending posts from his blogs entirely.

* My information comes from this well-sourced timeline. The link takes you to the Ws (the site lists all 50 states), so scroll down a few screens to Wisconsin, then read from the bottom up.

Solution to the Milwaukee Public Schools Tax SNAFU: Make the State Pay

I actually thought of this when I dashed off yesterday's post, but suggesting a solution was not my point then. It is my point now. And the solution, I think, is simple: Make the state of Wisconsin pay the $9.1 million dollars that the city forgot to collect for MPS.

The reason is also simple: The state, through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, is stiffing Milwaukee property-tax payers. As Mayor Tom Barrett publicized last spring, Milwaukeeans are paying $2,858 of the cost of every voucher used by an MPCP participant, but we're paying only $1,816 for each student in the Milwaukee Public Schools. That's a difference of $1,042 per voucher student. (These are the 2005-2006 numbers, though I imagine the difference remains roughly the same even as both numbers may have inched up for this school year.) The state had an opportunity to write a "hold Milwaukee harmless" provision into the bad voucher compromise earlier this year, a provision that would have eliminated that $1,042-dollar difference, but the state failed to do so.

We learned in October that the full-time voucher enrollment was 17,275 students, meaning Milwaukee taxpayers were on the hook (by my math) for $18 million or so more than if those 17,275 students were enrolled in MPS. Please note that, first of all, that amount is nearly double the missing $9.1 million that the city has shorted the schools. And note that, according to MPS officials, one reason the extra $9.1 million was needed in the first place was to help offset the extra cost that increased voucher-school enrollment brought this fall. (If it seems paradoxical to you that fewer students in MPS might cost MPS more money, you're not alone. But it is a fact of life here in the big city.)

That alone, I think, is justification enough for the state to kick in the $9.1 million that MPS seems short; after all, besides being only half of what the state, I think, owes us, the state is in a much better position to absorb the financial hit than either MPS or the City of Milwaukee is--think of the savings other taxpayers around the state see because of our voucher program. It would be a gesture of good will and an acknowledgement of the voucher program's funding flaw if the state could come through for us.

What do you say, Gov. Doyle? Legislators? Are you with me?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

McIlheran Watch: Special Education, School Choice, and Money Money Money

We could play this as "Simple Answers to Simple Questions" . . .

Question: Are we discouraging special-ed kids from attending successful schools?
Answer: Yes.

. . . and leave it at that. But you know me; I can't just walk away from this kind of question with one word. (See Mike Mathias for something akin to a one-word, but good, answer. I think his word is more like duh.)

The long story is that my BFF, the Journal Sentinel's Patrick McIlheran, stayed up late Saturday night to write a column-length rebuttal (linked in the question above) to an op-ed by Barbara Miner that ran in Sunday's paper. Miner wrote,
Within our schools, one issue of growing importance--but that gets insufficient attention--is the mishandling of special education in Milwaukee. This most certainly is not to say that special education students are in any way to blame for problems in our schools, nor to imply that special ed students can all be lumped into one category.

But here's the reality. Some schools, in particular traditional public schools, are home to growing numbers of students with challenging educational needs, especially behavior problems. Other schools, often the ones praised for their academic accomplishments, find ways to have fewer difficult-to-teach students.

Which, of course, raises the question: Do some schools succeed in part because we allow other schools to fail? Are we increasingly treating special ed students as second-class citizens, quietly but effectively discouraged from attending the most successful schools?
Hence the simple question, and the simple answer. Miner's got data to back up her answer of yes, including the fact that Milwaukee's private schools, which includes schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Progam that get our tax dollars in the form of vouchers, have a special education enrollment of less than 2%. At most MPS high schools, including the one where I teach, the number is more than ten times that. Some MPS schools--Miner makes explicit the unwritten rule about King and Riverside--have lower numbers, of course (and, I would argue, there's an unwritten corollary to that rule about the kind of special education students those schools enroll), and those are traditionally the best-performing schools in MPS.

In fact, my high school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress on its No Child Left Behind testing for several years running exclusively becuase of our speical education population, and primarily then only because not enough of them took the tests, not because of their scores. That track record of failure has led directly to my school's planned closure at the end of this year. Is the rest of our performance all shiny and golden? No, but, outside of our special education population, the general trend at my school has been progress, not just in test scores but also in graduation rates, grade-point average, and truancy rates. But stage five of NCLB is closure or reconstitution, and, well, here we are at the end of that gangplank.

By now, those of you who read this space regularly have figured out what constitutes McIlheran's beef with Miner: He is upset that she's maligning the voucher program:
Recall that choice schools cannot legally turn away a child with a disability and that choice schools must make reasonable accomodations to serve the child.

What they aren’t obligated to offer are the particularly expensive measures that some special-education children need--specialized teachers, for instance. This grates on some school choice critics: Such measures can be very costly, and people who aren’t inclined to like private schools would feel it’s only fair that they bear the expense just as government-run schools do.

Keep in mind, however, that choice schools don’t get a dime over their usual grant for doing this. [. . .] It seems likely that choice schools would take more special-ed students if they got at least some extra money to cover the costs the way government-run schools do.
That's a reasonable point; a voucher school doesn't get the boost in funds that public schools do to serve special education students, and voucher schools that do teach special education kids often have to bridge that gap in other ways. But those schools do not take the most expensive or most challenging cases (accepting the students but saying "we can't afford those accomodations" is the same as rejecting the students), cases that in the public schools cost two, three, up to ten times the average per-student spending to accomodate as required by federal law.

That federal law, by the way, is massively underfunded, to the tune of billions of dollars annually; IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilties Education Act) lays out mandates for public schools and then provides less than a quarter of the money it takes to make those same accomodations. The remainder comes from the state.

McIlheran cites a Florida program that does provide extra cash for private schools to teach special education students, and quotes from the glowing reviews on the program's own website. None of the numbers he cites actually provide any performance data; Florida's public schools are not judged (under NCLB) on whether parents are happy with the schools or on class size, but rather on test scores. (Leave aside the discussion of whether that should be the case; just know that it is.) Florida's private schools, on the other hand, seem to get graded on feel-good measures.

But this talk of paying private schools more for special education students seems to undermine one of the most common arguments in favor of the voucher program, that they do more for less money. If (and this is how Mike Plaisted got it down to one word--duh) you admit that teaching hard-to-teach students well costs more money, then you start to understand what the fuss is about when people like me and Barbara Miner complain about a push to expand voucher schools. As more and more of the easy-to-teach students get sucked into the vortex that is the MPCP, the Milwaukee Public Schools get left with a greater percentage of those whose educations are just plain hard--and expensive. There is certainly an effect from that on teacher morale and building climate (not to mention our NCLB status!), but let's just look at some concrete numbers.

My high school was audited a couple of years back (Audit 2005-003, if you care to dig into it), and as a part of that process, the auditors came up with a figure for what my school spent to educate "regular" students, that is, students not receiving special services. That figure was $6,663 per pupil for the 2003-2004 school year. By contrast, those "do more with less" voucher schools could have received, in that same school year, $5,882, a difference of less than $800 per student. While not nothing, the difference between what it cost a public high school and a voucher school to educate the same kind of student that year was relatively insignificant.

However, our special education students that year cost us almost exactly double, at $13,242 per student, and it is that spending that put my school's overall per-pupil cost at a much higher $8,195. When you compare that figure to the voucher schools' $5,882, the difference seems staggering and does appear to support the claim that voucher schools do more with less. But it masks the reality that MPS's special education population creates, a reality that voucher schools can (and for most, do) happily ignore.

McIlheran's solution to the problem of too few special ed kids in the voucher schools--paying more for special ed kids and requiring that they be serviced appropriately--is a solution that is antithetical to the voucher proponents' notions of cheaper education and independence from state requirements, and so seems unlikely ever to be implemented here. But the fact that he's even mentioning it is good; it means that somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind he recognizes that the voucher schools are getting off easy. Not just because they don't have to teach special education students if they don't want to, but because they're not judged on the performance of those kids the way public schools are, and because the kinds of students voucher schools teach help make the numbers look rosier for them than for the public schools.

It's no wonder he gets defensive.

Yes, well, my tax bill would still have been down from last year

Update: See my proposed solution.

I like how they waited until after I wrote about my property taxes yesterday before they went public with the three stooges routine:
Milwaukee taxpayers accidentally got a $9.1 million tax break--and city and Milwaukee Public Schools officials now have a $9.1 million headache.

Because of a paperwork snafu between MPS and City Hall, the property tax bills mailed this month inadvertently left out a tax increase that the School Board approved in October.

Now fingers are being pointed, the schools are demanding that the city come up with the money, and city officials are huddling in high-level, closed-door meetings to figure out what went wrong and how it can be fixed.
Maybe it's more Marx Brothers, I don't know.

In any case, a re-evaluation of my tax bill still shows that, when adjusted for what the school tax should have been, the schools are getting fewer real dollars from me, despite a higher value for my house, than they did last year. It's no longer a 5% drop, as noted in my post yesterday, but it is a drop. And that drop is still due to Doyle's vetoes of the legislatures budget, which would have put far more than $9 million more onto the property tax.

And if the city and the district work it out without raising any taxes anywhere (shut up, it's possible), then what I wrote yesterday still stands without need of amendment.

Relatedly, it seems like Sarah Carr's back from her hiatus . . . good to see the byline again. I hope that means we'll be seeing stories soon on her study of education in China.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The QEO and all that

'Tis just before Christmas,
And all through the house,
The QEO draws attention
From man and from other man.

(There's no way to make that rhyme without being rude. Sorry.)

Here's the short story on the QEO: Back in the early 1990s, when Tommy Thompson, et al., did their part to appease the anti-taxers regarding school costs and property taxes, they implemented a trio of reforms. The QEO (qualified economic offer) law allowed school districts to impose a 3.8% cap on increases in public school teacher salaries and benefits without bargaining, given that bargaining first comes to an impasse. The second reform placed caps on how much revenue districts could raise from the local levy. The third was a promise--not a statutory requirement like the other two--that a full two-thirds of funding for schools would be paid out of the state's general fund, also to keep property taxes low.

District administrators and school boards hate the revenue caps; teachers hate the QEO; the legislature (when Republican-flavored, anyway) hates the 2/3 promise. And I'd bet 98% or more of the rest of the state probably couldn't even tell you what any of the three things are.

But the QEO is the most common target for criticism, mostly because my union has one of the loudest lobbying voices in the state. If the state's Association of School Boards had our budget, people would be talking about the revenue caps all the time. And the 2/3 promise is an issue for exactly how long it takes to pass the budget every other year.

The problem is that the trio of reforms has ultimately not done what was promised a decade and a half ago. School costs aren't down, property taxes haven't fallen, and the state's ability to keep up with the spending is rapidly diminishing. The problem is that the legislature went at the problem backwards; the silly geese in the legislature capped our ability to pay rather than engage in any serious cost-control efforts, and that's why we're in this mess.

Not coincidentally, that is also the primary flaw of any "Taxpayers' Bill of Rights" or whatever you want to call the contemporary genuflections to the anti-taxers: Such legislation hampers our ability to pay without decreasing costs. It would put us--much as the school-funding trio has done now almost fifteen years later--in the unenviable position of cutting services to stay within arbitrary spending limits. (I've a full-length TABOR post here.)

But, Jay, I hear you thinking, isn't the QEO a cost-control measure? And a reasonable question it is. But the answer is, not really. From the Wisconsin State Journal article linked above:
The QEO law exempts school districts in labor negotiations from going into arbitration--which can force schools to accept unwanted contract provisions--as long as they offer wage and benefit increases that total 3.8 percent or more. [. . .]

To avoid arbitration, the QEO mandates that districts maintain the same increasingly costly benefits for teachers, [Doyle spokesman Dan] Leistikow said. "Districts are put in a terrible box," Leistikow said. "Repealing the QEO will give school districts more flexibility in managing their benefits cost."
I've written before that the QEO is a double-edged sword, in that it provides incentives for both unions and district officials to hammer out bargains agreeable to both parties. For the teachers, it's a no-brainer that they would like to see something above 3.8%, so they'll keep doing what they can to avoid having the QEO applied. Which, when done in the past, has literally led to teachers having to pay money to districts in extreme cases. Such things have also been threatened (up to $3000 of paybacks in one case), and many teachers (one example) have seen their salaries decrease from one year to the next because of the QEO.

For districts, as the article quoted above indicates, imposing the QEO means that any expensive benefit plans have to remain in place. So if administrators have their eye on finding something cheaper, they have to do it with the cooperation of their teachers at the bargaining table, or else, by imposing the QEO, they'll be stuck with the expensive plan they don't like. In the examples I linked to in the previous paragraph, I doubt sincerely that any of the administrators actually relished demanding giant paybacks from their teachers. (If they did, they shouldn't be doing that job. Maybe if Alan Lasee succeeds in getting the death penalty back, they could sign up to flip the switch.)

So the QEO, in practice, has little effect on costs. Much of that, of course, is due to a particular quirk of the American Way, which is that our health care system (best system in the world!) has seen cost increases at many, many times the rate of inflation, well above 3.8% annually. There is nothing school districts or teachers unions can do about that. Hampering our ability to pay (as revenue caps do, as TABOR would) doesn't solve the problem.

But a national (even state-wide) solution to the health care crisis is just one part of the answer to this puzzle. The rest of it comes in a re-working of the school-funding formula. The people involved in Wisconsin's schools recognize that; both the WEAC and WASB representatives quoted by the WSJ call for broader reform than just nibbling at the edges with a QEO repeal. But Liestekow, Doyle's spokesman, doesn't get it. Incoming Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) doesn't talk broad reform, either, though that may just be selective quoting or questioning on the part of the reporter.

Bottom line, though, is that the QEO has had a noticeable effect on Wisconsin's teachers. More from the WSJ:
Salaries for Wisconsin teachers in the 2003-04 school year averaged $42,882 and were 8.3 percent below the national average, according to a [Wisconsin] Taxpayers Alliance analysis. But the estimated value or cost of their benefits was 39.2 percent higher than the national average, ranking as the fifth-highest in the country.
Dad29, the "another man" linked above, siezes on this paragraph, with some supplemental data about Wisconsin's overall median income, to insist that the QEO doesn't need to go. We'll come back to that in a minute, but we should talk about those numbers anyway. The WisTax press release announcing their study back in September lacks the full context, but you can dig up a lot in other places.

This AFT study (.pdf), for example, is full of scary-but-true facts about Wisconsin's teachers. For example, we have the lowest salaries--and starting salaries--in the Midwest (page 25). Our starting salaries are, in fact, lowest in the nation (page 33), and barely above pay for the private sector (page 34). Do you think this has an effect on who decides to teach in this state? It probably does (see also pages 35-36). The trend is bad, too: Wisconsin's pay fell to 27th in 2003 from 23rd in 2001 (page 26) and 16th in 1993 (page 27), which makes us third-worst in the total percentage change in teacher salaries nationwide over the last decade.

We're also below average (27th) in our ratio of teacher salary to private sector salary (page 28), which makes us dead-frickin'-last in the percentage change of how well we've kept up with increases in private-sector wages (page 29). So when Dad29 complains, for example, about Wiconsin's teachers earning only 8% less than the median income in the state, it sounds a bit hollow. It also rings hollow when he tries to compare our salaries to the average Wisconsin salary--by far lower--of $36,660. Consider, for example,
As a work force, teachers are highly educated compared with the general public.
  • Twenty-four percent of Wisconsin’s working population holds a bachelor’s degree or more compared with nearly 100% of teachers.
  • Only 8% of the state’s work force holds a graduate degree, compared with 57% of teachers (U.S. Census Bureau 2003, “Status of the Wisconsin Public School Teacher 2004”).
Census Bureau data which measure earnings by educational attainment show that teachers are underpaid compared with private sector workers who have similar levels of education:
  • The average full-time worker nationally with a bachelor’s degree over age 25 earned $60,664 in 2004—that’s $17,782 more than Wisconsin teachers, who earned an average of $42,882 (U.S. Census Bureau, “Earnings by Educational Attainment,” NEA “Rankings and Estimates”).
  • The average full-time worker nationally with a master’s degree earned $73,024 in 2004—that’s $30,142 more than Wisconsin teachers earned who have a master’s degree and 10 year’s experience (U.S. Census Bureau, “Earnings by Educational Attainment,” WEAC salary data).
  • Education Week magazine found that Wisconsin teachers earned $10,000 less than other workers in the state with college degrees (“Quality Counts 2000”).
  • Wisconsin teachers with a master’s degree earned $17,250 less than other Wisconsin workers with the same degree (“Quality Counts 2000”).
There's more at the link. Let's compare apples to apples, shall we? A highly-qualified, well-educated Wisconsin teacher does not easily compare to your average worker. (First person who says "but you get summers off" gets smacked; I haven't had a summer off since I was 16.) There's also this:
Several types of analyses show that teachers earn significantly less than comparable workers, and this wage disadvantage has grown considerably over the last 10 years.
  • An analysis of weekly wage trends shows that teachers' wages have fallen behind those of other workers since 1996, with teachers' inflation-adjusted weekly wages rising just 0.8%, far less than the 12% weekly wage growth of other college graduates and of all workers. [. . .]
  • A comparison of teachers' wages to those of workers with comparable skill requirements, including accountants, reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, clergy, personnel officers, and vocational counselors and inspectors, shows that teachers earned $116 less per week in 2002, a wage disadvantage of 12.2%. Because teachers worked more hours per week, the hourly wage disadvantage was an even larger 14.1%.
  • Teachers' weekly wages have grown far more slowly than those for these comparable occupations; teacher wages have deteriorated about 14.8% since 1993 and by 12.0% since 1983 relative to comparable occupations.
  • Although teachers have somewhat better health and pension benefits than do other professionals, these are offset partly by lower payroll taxes paid by employers (since some teachers are not in the Social Security system). Teachers have less premium pay (overtime and shift pay, for example), less paid leave, and fewer wage bonuses than do other professionals. Teacher benefits have not improved relative to other professionals since 1994 (the earliest data we have on benefits), so the growth in the teacher wage disadvantage has not been offset by improved benefits.
  • The extent to which teachers enjoy greater benefits depends on the particular wage measure employed to study teacher relative pay. Based on a commonly used wage measure that is similar to the W-2 wages reported to the IRS (and used in our analyses), teachers in 2002 received 19.3% of their total compensation in benefits, slightly more than the 17.9% benefit share of compensation of professionals. These better benefits somewhat offset the teacher wage disadvantage but only to a modest extent. For instance, in terms of the roughly 14% hourly wage disadvantage for teachers we found relative to other workers of similar education and experience, an adjustment for benefits would yield a total compensation disadvantage for teachers of 12.5%, 1.5 percentage points less.
Notice that this study compensates both for "time off" and makes an honest comparison of benefits, too.

Look, when it comes to repealing the QEO, I'm for it only in the sense that we need an absolute do-over when it comes to school reform. Picking off one element of the trio at a time will not ultimately solve anything. But to suggest, as Dad29 does, that teachers are demanding something unreasonable (the ability to freely negotiate the terms of our employment? Gasp!) is ridiculous.

Thanks, Gov. Doyle, belatedly

I'm a bit late to the party--what? I have a life--but I just finally looked at my property tax bill over the weekend. And, despite having seen another increase in our home's valuation, our tax bill was down. Only about $70, but still.

The Cheddarsphere buzzed quietly last week when Governor Doyle announced that the median home's tax increased just $7. I imagine the response was so muted because most Cheddarsphereans didn't see big increases themselves. The exception seems to be Michael Caughill:
Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle claims that the property tax bill for the “median” homeowner in Wisconsin is only going up $7 this year.

Mine went up $300 for the second year in a row.

I need to find out where Mr. Median lives and move in next door.
Clever joke indeed. But the only other complainer I can Google up--besides a commenter at Caughill's place--is Steveegg, who is just upset about taxes in general. (Talk to Barry Orton, Steve.) There is also some speculation about why median instead of mean as a measure, speculation which is not unwarranted (I'd like to see both numbers myself). But, really, it's been very quiet.

It is almost kind of funny to discover quite so many crickets, as rapping Doyle for his tax policy is as reflexive to conservatives in this state as, say, worshipping Charlie Sykes (who was also oddly silent on the tax issue last week).

Anyway, here's my point. Can you guess why, despite the increased valuation in our home, we're paying less in taxes? Is it the leadership of good Republican Scott Walker? No, our County taxes were up. Is it the lottery credit? That barely makes a dent. No, the big decreases came from the leadership of that horrible Democrat Tom Barrett (our city taxes were down more than $20) and a 5% drop in the school taxes--a drop directly attributable to Governor Doyle's budget vetoes two summers ago.

So, thank you Governor Doyle. A little late, I know, but it's better than the silence from your opponents who doubted you.

(Related: See Mike Plaisted on the Journal Sentinel's continuing anti-Doyle bias.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Worst Photoshopping of the Year

Important UPDATE below!

The year is rapidly coming to a close, so the nomination period is almost over, but Carrie Lynch draws our attention to a doozy.

The doozy comes from the website of a candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Annette Ziegler. On her events page, Ziegler has some pictures, if you roll over particular counties on the big map. For example, if you roll over Florence County, you get a cute picture of Judge Ziegler standing in front of the rustic Florence County Courthouse sign. Mouse over Washington county, and you get this picture of her in front of the slightly less rustic Washington County Courthouse.

All very nice, right? Except keep going; hit Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Ozaukee counties. Notice anything . . . unusual about these?

Now, to get to any of the Milwaukee, Waukesha, or Ozaukee County courthouses from her homebase in Washington County, it might have taken Judge Ziegler no more than 45 minutes or so in the car. She probably could have hit all three in an afternoon. But, no. We get bad photoshop--she couldn't even match the font and color of the sign, let alone the angle of the words. Someone should probably get fired for this. Preferably the candidate.

For the record, I'm leaning toward Linda Clifford.

UPDATE: As of mid-morning, Monday December 18, Judge Ziegler has removed the photoshopped images from her page. You can still get the Florence County and Washington County photos, but the others as seen above have been removed. Good for her for moving quickly to change the site.

The photos do remain on her server (Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Waukesha), in case you think I made them up.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Living With Ed

I have never seen "The Osbournes." I will never watch "Being Bobby Brown." I refuse even to think about the Hulk Hogan show.

Ed Begley, Jr., though? I'm all over that.


U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., announced early today he will not be a candidate for president in 2008.

His decision was made public in a statement released to The Indianapolis Star.

"As you know I have been exploring helping the people of my state and our country in a different capacity," he wrote. "After talking with family and friends over the past several days, I have decided that this is not the year for me to run for President and I will not be a candidate for the presidency in 2008.

"It wasn't an easy decision but it was the right one for my family, my friends and my state. I have always prided myself on putting my public responsibilities ahead of my own ambitions."

He conceded the odds were against him, describing himself as a "relatively unknown candidate."
With Bayh out, that leaves Tom Vilsack and Dennis Kucinich all alone in the race for the bottom of the pack.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Run, Tommy!, run!

Friday Random Ten

The it's beginning to NOT look a lot like Christmas Edition

1. "What Do You Want From Me" Pink Floyd from The Division Bell
2. "Solitary Man" Tracy Grammer from The Verdant Mile
3. "Zachary" Sonia Dada from E-Town Live 2
4. "Blue Guitar" Susan Werner from New Non-Fiction
5. "Everybody's Gotta" Sons of the Never Wrong from 4 Ever On
6. "Somewhere Out There" from Lucy Kaplansky
7. "For Sascha" Béla Fleck from Tales from the Acoustic Planet
8. "Everytime" Sarah Harmer from You Were Here
9. "The Restless Consumer" Neil Young from Living with War
10. "Dictator" The Nields from 'Mousse

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thursday Thumbs

Thursday Thumbs is a new regular feature wherein I express my approval or disapproval concerning news of the week, happenings, or other trivia through a cute graphic, rather than with my usual long, hard-to-follow, and humorless rants and rambling. Today's edition is the inaugural one. Be nice.

thumbs upThumbs up to going back to grad school. Scott's time will get tighter, but it will be well worth it in the end.

thumbs downThumbs down to AirTran. Midwest Airlines has something special about it, and it isn't AirTran's dirty airplanes and cramped seats.

thumbs upThumbs up to Mel Gibson. Yes, he's crazy, but at least he's able to own his insanity.

thumbs downThumbs down to Michael McGee, Jr. He can't seem to own his insanity.

thumbs upThumbs up to the McIlheran Watch growing ever wider. I'm telling you, he's a tricky one.

thumbs downThumbs down to everyone who over-hyped the "spying on Di" story.

thumbs upThumbs up to a swift recovery for Tim Johnson. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

thumbs downThumbs down to everyone waiting for Johnson to die. Really, FOX, that's low even for you.

thumbs upThumbs up to Dean, for crossing enemy lines.

thumbs downThumbs down to No Child Left Behind, which seems to be falling apart all over.

thumbs downThumbs down to Peter Pochowski, who said, "he estimates 25% to 30% of local teens are carrying" cell phones. That's about 70% to 75% off from reality.