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Friday, December 31, 2010

FriTunes: New Years Eve, with a comments bleg

by folkbum

First, the bleg: For most of the first year of Echo comments, they appeared with the first comment at the top and later comments below. Something has changed and now the comments show up last first, and that bugs me. There is apparently a fix out there (one blogger notes), but no one has spelled it out. So if you know, please pass along the solution. Thanks. Now, tunes:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Milwaukee: Safer than you think

by folkbum

I've had this open in a couple of tabs since yesterday, but Jim Rowen posted it this morning and so I thought I had better get to it as well. Carla Saulter at Grist writes about how the safest places to raise children tend to be big cities:
People, especially children, are most likely to be hurt or killed in an automobile crash, and, not surprisingly, automobile crashes are more prevalent in areas that require cars to get around. (Outer suburbs also tend to be dominated by two-lane roads, which are responsible for roughly 77 percent of automobile fatalities.) Even though the risk of homicide by a stranger (incidentally, a small percentage of all homicides) is slightly higher in central cities, the difference is not enough to overcome the significantly elevated risk in outer suburbs of a fatal car crash.

Of course, there's more to safety than staying alive. Most of us would also like to avoid being assaulted, harassed, or robbed. So what of the crime that does exist in cities? According to Skenazy, that's going down--and not just a little bit. We're talking historic lows. Crime rates have been falling in almost every category (including crimes against children) since the mid-90s, and are no higher today than they were in 1974.
Indeed, just this morning there's another story about violent crime rates being lower today than at any other point in my entire lifetime.

Saulter cites a 2002 University of Virginia study (pdf)--no doubt, with the continued decline in violent crime since then the results would be even stronger--suggesting that it is far more dangerous to live in isolated, car-heavy areas rather than in cities, a study I'd not seen before. (UVA repeated the study focusing just on VA itself in 2009 with the same results.) Milwaukee was one of nine metro areas (city plus surrounding counties) in the 2002 study; the city of Milwaukee was a safer place to live than 3/4 of the counties in the study, and safer than neighboring Washington County, where residents are more than twice as likely to die in traffic accidents than in Milwaukee. (Ozaukee and Waukesha Counties were slightly safer.) The safest of all was the inner-ring suburbs in Milwaukee County, where density and walkability are far higher than the outer-ring, exurban counties. (The City of Milwaukee was also listed as a safer place to live than any of the Wisconsin exurban counties of the Twin Cities metro region!)

Whatever you may think of life here in the urban hellhole that is Milwaukee, it's a lot safer than life in a lot of those exurban hellholes to the north and west of here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

True colors

by folkbum

The Republican wave last month seemed predicated on two things: a distaste of corruption and insider politicking, and an absolute loathing of deficit spending.

In that spirit, you might expect that the newly-installed leadership of the Republicans in Congress would eschew lobbyist connections and tighten deficit spending rules. Instead, the opposite has happened:
Many incoming GOP lawmakers have hired registered lobbyists as senior aides. Several of the candidates won with strong support from the anti-establishment tea party movement.

These cases illustrate the endurance of Washington’s traditional power structure, even in the wake of an election dominated by insurgent rhetoric. In addition to hiring lobbyists, many newly elected House Republicans have begun holding big-dollar fundraisers in Washington to pay off debts and begin preparing for 2012.

The Republicans have a new plan to make it easier to rack up deficits: Looking ahead to controlling Congress, Republicans again propose to eliminate Paygo, as they did under Bush. But this time they propose to replace it with a different rule, Cutgo, which would require that new spending be offset with spending cuts. That would indeed be an effective way to limit new spending programs. Of course, it would retain the ability to pass tax cuts with no offsets whatsoever. The decision once again reflects the core Republican belief that tax revenues do not need to bear any relationship to expenditures.
Lobbyists gutting Wall Street regulation, deficits through the roof--it will be like 2002 all over again.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Study: American voters remarkably dumb; Republicans and FOX viewers moreso

by folkbum

A number of my comrades among the leftosphere are giddy that yet another study shows that Republicans and FOX News watchers are woefully misinformed about things, and hold beliefs that turn out to be the opposite of reality. BREAKING, as they say ironically, as that's not a surprise anymore.

But the new study in question (pdf), by the U of Maryland's, has, to my mind, a much scarier topline finding: Most American voters are misinformed.

The study seems to have asked 11 questions about current events that played out around and during the last election cycle plus the timeless chestnut of climate change*. Of the eleven, a majority of voting Americans got six wrong. Some were close--the question about whether the recession was over had 44% getting it right--but some were just stunningly wrong. Only 8% of voters, for example, knew the consensus view that the 2009 stimulus bill created or saved millions of jobs. (I would have answered all 11 correctly, but I pay way more attention than most people.)

To me, this is stunning, and it represents not merely a failure of partisan media (though MSNBC viewers did better than FOX viewers), but of media as a whole. Campaigns and candidates, too, seem to be failing (or succeeding, I suppose, if your aim is dissemblance), as well as political parties.

As for the partisan divide itself, Republicans are more likely to be wrong about five of the questions, Democrats three, and both on the remaining three. Heavy FOX News viewers were "significantly more likely to be wrong" about nine of them. 63% of daily FOX watchers think Barack Obama was not born in the US, or at least that the question isn't settled, for example.

To be fair, the choice of questions probably affected the results somewhat; I am sure that regular Fox & Friends viewers can tell you all about the latest wing specials from Hooters.

But I think there's nothing in this study for anyone to be proud of, regardless of one's political leanings or choice of news outlets. It's embarrassing, simply put.

* The climate change question asked respondents to say whether science was overwhelmingly on the side that changes are real or if it was evenly split. The loud (and, from where I sit, wrong) dissenters make up a tiny, tiny minority of voices on the issue--which even deniers ought to know to be true.

FriTunes: The Solstice is Coming Soon. I hope.

by folkbum

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And the Difference Is...

By Keith R. Schmitz

The phrase makers that comprise the GOP are sirens of the first order, luring unsuspecting voters to eventually crash on the economic rocks. That is to be recognized for its art, but not admired because those who get seduced by this nonsense introduce needless complications into their lives, as we will see with the unfolding of the next two years.

Let's take the term "death tax." Stunning yet vapid. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann scream about this fake issue at their bund rallies to great effect.

But let's look at the fact that taxes are paid by animated human bodies. Since that corpse decomposing in that hole in the ground or the pile of ashes in the urn has no use for the money and so a tax on what they left behind has no impact on them.

The dead as in "death" have no ability to pay taxes. As much as those who follow their Republican leaders will swallow a lot of fanciful stuff, it is doubtful they truly believe in zombies.

Nevertheless that money is left behind and it is used by someone or some entity. Used to be that the government took a sizable portion of these fortunes. As for the reason why, I agree with Teddy Roosevelt.

Our forefathers that the members of the tea party supposedly have a fetish for, fought to overthrow an aristocracy. Inherited wealth works to re-establish one. So Jim Demint, Mark Block, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and the lot. Are we to say to George Washington, et al, thanks for the effort, but we'd like to have an aristocracy back.

They had their House of Windsor. We have the House of Koch and on a smaller level, the House of Menard.

Is all of this Constitution worship a lot of hot air? Is there no understanding of what our founders wanted to set up?

But then there is the dubious argument about the double taxation. There is of course the reality that a lot of money that flows through our economy from which government from time to time will get a piece of the action.

This gets back to who really gets to use the money? So just wondering. Why shouldn't the heirs be subject to the same level of taxation as say winning the lottery or cleaning up the tables at HoChunk. The lucky gambler didn't really earn that money, neither did the heir.

So the question is, what's the difference?

I'll Have What They're Having

By Keith R. Schmitz

Next time the screamers on Talkradiostan throw up the usual cant about "Madison being an island surrounded by common sense" think about this, and think about our giant thought leaders in Milwaukee too gutless to stand up for the train expansion.

A nearly half a billion project, 10,000 jobs, shops, restaurants and homes. Yeah, tax cuts will solve everything.

I agree--remove them. But to where?

by folkbum

Because Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan never misses a chance to a) showboat and b) bash the Milwaukee Public Schools, an incident at Bradley Tech high school from last month has got the city's attention. Which is not to say that the incident wasn't serious--an outsider allegedly showed up, among a crowd gathering outside the school, with a shotgun. This is not something to be taken lightly, but the Milwaukee PD and Tech's administration did a great job of keeping students safe and resolving the matter.

Writing at Third Coast Digest, Patti Wenzel picks up it up from there, explaining one possible solution and lighting upon another:
The thought process is that now, students are transported on school buses to their campus but choose to skip classes. Instead of having the ability to get back on an MCTS bus and leave the area, the truants are forced to remain in the neighborhood (in this case Walker’s Point) and cause problems.

Are we as a community and taxpayers supposed to seriously consider returning to a more expensive transportation method for students, because it will allow truants to leave the area and take their mayhem and foolishness elsewhere?

Instead, we should implement Superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton’s idea of removing troublemakers from the school.
“Everyone needs to be educated, but not everyone needs to be here,” Thornton said during the public meeting.
And I agree: At nearly every high school in MPS, there is a handful of students--some high schools have bigger handfuls than others--who are not suited for traditional education. This may be a symptom of a diagnosed disability, or it may be hard-headedness, gang activity, or addiction. Either way, I am sure that Tech would be a much better place for students and teachers if they could move one or three dozen of the worst of the worst out.

But where do these students go? They're not going to get dumped into some other specialty school, I assure you. Reagan and King, Arts, Riverside and Morse--all of these get special dispensation from the district already for their specialty programs. And while Wenzel says "MPS has schools set up for these students," the district really doesn't: There are small partnership schools that act as alternative settings, but they cannot accommodate every student in the district whose presence is a disruption. Schools like Lad Lake enroll, literally, less than a dozen kids at a time.

So what happens is, as always, the other high schools in the district get dumped on--Bay View, Madison, South Division, Vincent, Pulaski, Washington end up taking some other school's worst of the worst. And whaddyaknow, that looks an awful lot like the list of the state's worst-performing high schools from earlier this year. This is no coincidence.

So what to do? Clearly, MPS needs to invest in a significant alternative program for the district's most chronic disruptors. It needs multiple sites that can serve probably three or four hundred students. The sites cannot be located within other schools.

Is this a cheap and easy fix? No--and probably the most difficult part will be developing an enrollment protocol so these alternative sites don't simply become dumping grounds for thousands of immature students who can handle a regular program with adequate supervision and instruction. But these schools need to exist, because we can't keep letting Milwaukee's high schools get dragged down by students who simply can't handle a high-school environment.

Monday, December 13, 2010

RIP Richard Holbrooke

by folkbum

There are only a handful of people in the world who have done as much to stop genocides and make the world a better place as Amb. Holbrooke. He leaves a huge vacuum.

Sensationalism practiced right before your very eyes!

by folkbum

Compare these two screenshots, taken at approximately the same time earlier by an alert reader (click for larger, more legible versions):

The top screenshot is from jsonline, with a headline clearly indicating that the health care reform law has been ruled unconstitutional, and a subhead making that point even more clearly. But click through to the AP story that headline links to, and you find reality: "A federal judge rejected a key provision of the Obama administration's health care law as unconstitutional Monday" (my emphasis). Indeed, a few seconds of additional research found this bit in the judge's ruling:
"It would be virtually impossible within the present record to determine whether Congress would have passed this bill, encompassing a wide variety of topics related and unrelated to heath care, without Section 1501," Hudson ruled. Therefore, Hudson said the court would "sever with circumspection" the "problematic portions while leaving the remainder intact."
No wholesale unconstitutionality there at all.

Yet Journal Sentinel editors opted for a wrong, and sensationalistic, headline instead. Why?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Politi"Fact" inconsistency mind-boggling, suggests nothing less than obvious bias against public employees

by folkbum

Two caveats before I dive in here: One, I count Bryan Kennedy as a friend and colleague, and he has had my support in many previous endeavors; and Two, I am a public employee.

That said, consider this: A couple of weeks ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Politi"Fact" column took a look at a statement by Milwaukee alderman Bob Donovan. After concluding that the very specific percentage he cited was false, they rated his statement "mostly true" because, and I quote, "his larger point--that MPS pays a lot more in benefits than other local governments pay--is on the money."

Today, the Politi"Fact" addresses a statement by Wisconsin AFT president Bryan Kennedy, that state employees earn 8% less than private-sector workers when you consider equivalent education and experience in equivalent positions. In full, Kennedy said, "Well, I think that there's been talking points used by those who don't like government to continually bash us and make us look as if we're the haves and we're really not. If you look across the board, we're averaging about 8 percent less than if we all worked in the private sector. Some of our people make half or a third as much as they could make if they worked in the private sector."

Politi"Fact" makes some calls and reads some studies and finds that 8% may not be exactly right: A report from the "Economic Policy Institute found that state workers across the country are paid 11 percent less than private-sector workers. The difference is 7.6 percent less, the report said, if pay plus benefits are considered," Politi"Fact" writes. Later, there's a stat about Wisconsin from a different study: "[A] second report [. . .] provide[d] one Wisconsin statistic: From 2000 to 2008, the wages of state employees was 6.2 percent less than for private-sector employees."

Knowing what we know about how Politi"Fact" treated Donovan's misstep in percentage-stating, it seems like Kennedy's statement ought to merit at least a "half true," to match Donovan, since you can certainly see that Kennedy's larger point--that public-sector employees are compensated less than private-sector ones--is on the money, which seems to be the deciding factor in these cases.

But, alas, no. Kennedy gets a "false" rating.

Nowwaitaminnit, you might be saying, you're leaving out the distinction made by Politi"Fact" that "Kennedy’s statement referred to pay." Um, where? Kennedy never said the words "pay" or "salary" or even "money." His statement did not make any clear distinction between salary and benefits, and so that 8% number is damned close to the 7.6% that Politi"Fact" cited. For Politi"Fact" to claim that Kennedy did make a distinction, and to call his statement false for it, is bogus. (And if they want to say pay only, Kennedy's 8% was still off by less than Donovan's stat.)

Nowwaitaminnit, you might be saying again, maybe these columns were written by two different authors and they haven't gotten the rules quite standardized yet. But you'd be wrong if you said that, as both of these items were written by Tom Kertscher and edited by Greg Borowski. Clearly, then, something is pushing these two to abandon the standard of "larger points" being "on the money" rating a "half true."

Could it be that it's because Kennedy is defending public employees from the onslaught of attacks by people like Donovan and Scott Walker? That Kertscher, who spends an inordinate amount of time in the Kennedy column perseverating on "benefits," has a bias against public employees, and prefers to side with those who attack them? That's the only logical conclusion--Kertscher and Borowski have a bug up their collective butts about public employees and use the imprimatur of Politi"Fact" to exercise it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

FriTunes: Before it's too late

by folkbum

Better watch this while you have the chance, before Scott Walker yanks it from the intertubes altogether:

Also on the chopping block: The kiddie train at Southridge, long wedding dresses, and Amy's Amiable--get to it before January 3.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Quickly Noted

by folkbum

Further to the complexity of teacher evaluation.

What, you mean Patick McIlheran is a liar? I am shocked, just shocked.

Speaking of shocked: The Journal Sentinel's editorial board continues today with its series of disappointed editorials lamenting the fact that the candidates they endorsed are pursuing exactly the policies they promised to pursue. Buyer's remorse does not look good on you, guys.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Elizabeth was always my favorite Edwards

by folkbum

It sounds grim for her. She will be missed.

The $26,000 woman*; or, building a better teacher

by folkbum

I've been following with interest, for several reasons, the Journal Sentinel series on "building a better teacher." (The series seems not to have its own page, but here's part one, at which you can find links to all the parts published so far.)

The series is not done, and its last part--the part on the role of teachers unions in teacher evaluation and quality--promises to be perhaps its most contentious. We'll dive into that pool once it's full.

But I have a couple of reactions to share so far, with the series mostly done. One is from the part two Sundays ago by Alan Borsuk, about how difficult it is to get the best teachers to volunteer for the worst assignments. What you need to do, though, when reading that is read Borsuk's regular Sunday column from that same edition of the paper, where he writes about Florida's system of grading schools using A, B, C, D and F. Here's a bit from the latter:
There is a benefit to a school if it gets an A or gets a grade that is at least one letter higher than the previous year, namely that each school gets $85 per student from the state for the school to use as it chooses. Most of the money goes to bonuses for staff members.

And there are consequences for getting a low grade: The school doesn't lose any money, but the state takes extra steps to intervene in the school's academic program. And if the school gets Fs in two years out of four, students are allowed to transfer to high-performing public schools in that district. (Originally, they were allowed to transfer to private schools at public expense, but the Florida Supreme Court found that in violation of the state constitution in 2005.) [. . .]

[F]or teachers in schools that earn the high-grade bonuses, the grades can mean $500 to $1,000 extra a year.
I can't tell if Borsuk is endorsing the grading or not--the column's title ("State could learn a thing or two from Florida's school grading system") may not have been his and was ambiguous at best, and there's no clear "We oughtta do this here" line in the piece. But the column does make clear that something like this could be coming to Wisconsin under Scott Walker and his enablers in the legislature.

Which is why the piece a few pages over on pushing teachers to high-needs schools is a frustrating companion. Borsuk gives star status in the column to MPS principal James Sonnenberg:
West Side Academy's Sonnenberg has been outspoken in recent years about how difficult it has been to fill teaching jobs in his school, which serves poor minorities, a large number of whom are transient students from troubled homes in a high-crime area.

"If you've got openings that nobody wants, you're going to get a struggling teacher," Sonnenberg said. He praised the teaching staff overall, but said the joke in his building is, if you show up for a job interview, you get the job--unlike some suburban situations, where there can be hundreds of applicants for each opening.
While we currently do not grade schools (A, B, C, and so on), there's little question what schools would get what grades if we did; it's not a big secret. And if we adopted Florida's model, which offers $1000 bonuses to A-scoring schools, the incentive gets that much stronger for the best teachers to avoid schools like West Side Academy that will get an F.

Even if Wisconsin offered bonuses to schools that improve, there is no incentive to leave an easy-A school for an F school, because how can any great teacher be certain that the rest of the teachers would be just as good and just as focused on improvement?

A second reaction to these stories is that the comment sections are, well, insane. By that I mean the high proportion of people commenting who seem to have learned everything they know about schools from talk radio. Yesterday's story on teacher training programs, for example, attracted this comment:
You want good, dedicated, and very capable teachers?

FIRST: You eliminate the Federal Department of Education! Since Carter created this bureaucratic behemoth, the UNIONS have controlled the schools!

SECOND: You eliminate ALL University Schools of Educations, which are very little about teaching; and, all about leftist ideology and indoctrination!!

THIRD: You legislate strict limits on Teacher Union influence on curriculum and teacher continuing education!
This poor fellow's keyboard apparently doesn't have a working period, at the same time he doesn't have the faintest bit of working knowledge about schools or schools of education. The US Department of Eduction (not a Carter construct, by the way) is the smallest department by employment and a wee 3% of the federal budget; hardly a behemoth. (It is bureaucratic, and if I met Arne Duncan in a dark alley, I'd take him for coffee and explain the error of his ways.) The unions do not control the schools, and have little to no influence on things like curriculum, the structure of training programs, requirements for license maintenance and continuing education, or even teachers' placement in schools and districts once they're hired. While unions have influence over compensation and, to a lesser extent, working conditions, none of those other things are the subjects of collective bargaining agreements.

But you can find comments like that throughout the threads on all these stories: Blah blah UNION BAD blah blah. It's disheartening and not a little concerning that this is what passes for rational discourse about the complicated and nuanced subject of teacher preparation, evaluation, and retention these days. I cannot imagine what the comments will look like on next Sunday's story specifically about the unions.

Finally, I want to link to my most recent Bay View Compass column, which is about teacher evaluation in MPS, but it's not online yet. When it is, it will be at the top of the page here. Here's a bit of it, to whet your appetite::
Two things bother me about the current set-up, one personal and one systemic. Personally, I haven’t had a full-on formal classroom observation by a principal in nearly a decade. As a professional who takes my job seriously, I actually like feedback, and I miss it.

Systemically, there is no consistency to teacher evaluation--here, we’re a system of principals, not a school system. And, when far less than one percent of all evaluated teachers rate “unsatisfactory,” I have no confidence in how seriously the process is run.

So first, let’s take principals out of the evaluator role. I haven’t had a formal observation in forever not because my principals have been bad at their jobs; rather, principals have a thousand other jobs to do. Instead, keep principals--and give them district-level support--focused on helping teachers improve classroom practice without the pressure of putting a label on the teachers they’re helping. Teachers will be more receptive to principal interventions, even those based on sensitive data like test scores, when they know they’re non-evaluative.
There's more, including my suggestion for where the evaluator role should be if not in the hands of principals. If you can get a paper copy, it's there; it should be online any time now.

Update: Also.

* Title: The average starting salary in Wisconsin, and the fact that this profession is still attracts more women than men--cause and effect?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teacher of the Year

by folkbum

The woman who kept things calm and together and safe in that Marinette classroom yesterday--she has my vote. Scary stuff.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsen

by folkbum

He's exploring some other forbidden planet now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Help me understand Politi"Fact." Please.

by folkbum

Here's the latest:
In the wake of [GOP] election victories, officials are working [federal employment numbers] into interviews and even social-networking messages, such as this Nov. 16, 2010 Twitter post from Reince Priebus (@ReincePriebus), chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin:

"Obama has grown fed. payroll by 141k workers-not counting Census, postal, & uniformed military. Wants to add 125k more."
Right. So Priebus made two claims: 1, Obama's federal government, under his direction (note the transitive use of grown), increased its size by 141,000 workers; and 2, Obama's federal government, under his direction, wants to increase its size by an additional 125,000 workers. How many of those claims are true--one, two, or zero?

If you guessed zero, you're right:
During Obama’s tenure, the number of federal workers has increased by about 141,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics--though it is in large part a product of Bush’s last budget. [. . .T]he 125,000 figure is not the projected job growth in fiscal year 2011--it’s just new hires [. . .]. But two-thirds of the 125,000 hires will replace departing federal workers.
Zero true claims out of two. In real-world terms, that's "false," maybe "pants-on-fire" depending on how much you want to blame Preibus and how much you think he's a victim of bad information contained in the FOXNews item he linked to as evidence.

In Politi"Fact" world, that's "half true." Seriously. I am not kidding.

So what gives? What are the rules for what constitutes "truth" and "lies" in the eyes of Politi"Fact"? This is important--the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has spent untold fortunes on the license for the brand and they have recently declared themselves the ultimate arbiters of Scott Walker's promise-keeping. For those of us with an interest in monitoring said promises--as well as whatever other damage Walker does to the state in the coming years--it's important to know how to translate Politi"Fact" into English for the masses.

If anyone has a handle on this, I would love to learn the code.

FriTunes: Thankful

by folkbum

I am thankful that I am nowhere near shopping today. People be crazy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sarah Palin -- The Anti-Jack Lalanne

By Keith R. Schmitz

In her on-going series of dumb and senseless attacks on all things Obama (race nor the race of course have nothing to do with it) Sarah Palin on the whiny Laura Ingram program went o the attack Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative that encourages kids to get fit.

As usual, Palin is being stupid on so many levels, and Roland S. Martin provides them for you.

If you want an effort to reduce health care costs, this is a big way to do it. It is just too bad that in this country these kids will ultimately grow up to work for employers that are allowed to work people like dogs, giving them very little time to exercise. When people complain about obesity in this country, this is the one factor that gets overlooked.

What the First Lady is promoting makes sense in so many ways, and America's most prominent dim wit fails to recognize them. With so many people supporting the notion of her running for president it is no accident that this country is in a slow slide downward. Her circus life style and bizarre comments keep her in the spotlight, generating strange admiration for some and for others, provides a car wreck from which many of us cannot look away.

Why can't we just turn her off?

Monday, November 22, 2010

When you repeat the lie loud enough and often enough, people start repeating it back wronger

by folkbum

We have talked here, ad nauseum, about the misleading statistic perpetuated by the mgmt of the Milwaukee Public Schools, that for every dollar they spend on teachers' salaries, they spend an additional 74 cents on teachers' benefits. This is misleading, as I have explained, because it contains lots of things that you don't normally think of as "benefits"--defined as stuff you negotiate for as a perk of the job--and a lot of costs related to retirees, rather than current employees.

The issue is complicated, some might say nuanced, but the top line number is an easy one to repeat a lot if you have a radio show, press release vending machine, or newspaper editorial page.

So here's a comment from a story today noting that we MPS teachers have voted to ratify a new contract:
74 cents of every dollar taken from taxpayers goes to pay and benefits of the teachers. Think about that for a second, 74% of the MPS budget.*
The poor soul, going around repeating a number that he doesn't understand to attack some people he doesn't like, and just being wrong, wrong in the process.

My back-o'-envelope calculations put teacher salaries and benefits, including the misleading parts thereof, at something south of $700 million (someone willing to dig up the budgets could probably find the line item with the right number, but, really, it should between $650m and $675m). That sounds like a lot of money--and it is!--but it's only around 60% of the grand total MPS spends of its whole $1.15 billion-with-a-bee budget. You would have to add in all the other employees (from secretaries and janitors to the superintendent) to break 74%.

But here's the thing, or at least a thing: As poignant a point as this guy thinks he's making--ZOMG! Union goons eat my tax dollars!--where else do you want a school district's money to go than to the people? Desks don't teach your children; computers don't feed them; a photocopier doesn't clean up after them. All the real work of educating the students is done by people and supported by people.

And, yes, MPS spends a lot on, say, busing, or books, or even fancy-pants consultants who fly in, drop their bombs, and fly out. But at its heart, the Milwaukee Public Schools, like every school district everywhere, is in the business of putting teachers into classrooms and other caring personnel into schools to support those teachers.

* I keep a running tally of great examples of irony. It wasn't that long ago when Wisconsin conservatives were pushing the "70% solution," which would demand that 70% of a school district's budget be spent in the classroom, on things like ... teachers. You'd think they'd be happy if they believed we were hitting 74%!

How you can tell that I'm not from here originally

by folkbum

The death of L. Bembenek doesn't seem like a front-page story to me.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's life really like on Planet Duncan?

by folkbum

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, on changes he thinks schools might need to make to adjust to a "new normal" that includes harder economic times*:
He urged districts to consider "modest but smartly targeted increases in class size." As a parent, Duncan said, he'd much rather have his kids in a class of 26 with a really excellent teacher, than in a class with 22 kids, lead by a mediocre teacher.
I do not believe I have ever, in my near 15-year career, had an average class size of 22. It has been many years since I have had an average class size of 26. The last five years, when I've been keeping documentation just for kicks, I've averaged over 30 every year. This year, I'm at 32, skewed downward slightly by one small AP section (my other AP section is at 36).

Of course, Duncan also said this:
Duncan said he'd like districts to consider reworking contracts so that effective teachers (particularly those who choose to work with more kids) can make a lot more money, say $80,000, or even $125,000.
So if he thinks teachers who average 26 kids should be earning $100k or so (picking a number in the middle), what about those of us teaching 30+?

He said this at a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, which hates public education to begin with. Duncan's kind of people.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Weasel and the Damage Done

by bert

Like the stink in your bachelor buddy’s car, the ugliness issued from the hard, black heart of right-wing WTMJ-AM radio is something you can get used to after a while.

In my case, when the station played Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back” while discussing first lady Michelle Obama about a month ago, I thought that was undeserved but not at all surprising. Also, I’m used to show host Charlie Sykes and his sophomoric, classless taunting of the outgoing Democrats. Rep. David Obey gets called “a horse’s ass”, Gov. Jim Doyle is a “lying sack of sh&#” whom Charlie audibly “flips off”, and Sen. Russ Feingold’s new campaign slogan should be “want fries with that?” Get it? Get it? Whatever.

However, Wednesday was different. A line in the airwaves was crossed Wednesday when Charlie targeted Neil Young. The way I look at it, you can tug on superman's cape, taunt politicians and the perfectly nice president's wife, and even spit into the wind. But don't go dogging Neil.

The item over which Charlie gloated was that a fire on Nov. 9 caused about a million dollars in losses to Neil’s possessions and the warehouse where they were stored in the San Francisco Bay Area. Charlie could not resist reveling in Neil’s problems because the cause was the batteries or something electrical on this cherry 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible (20 feet long!) that Neil had famously converted to hybrid electric power.

Get it? Hybrids bad. Fires started by hybrids funny. Not whatever, not this time.

I just want to say one thing: Charlie, step off.

And Neil, just know that these right-wingers are like addicts when it comes to hating on people. They milk blood to keep from running out.

Speaking of Neil, some of us will be celebrating his music and birthday on Saturday instead of his misfortunes.

FriTunes: Happy Almost Thanksgivin'

by folkbum

Sorry for the paucity of posting. But if I can sum up the week, it was like this: Some things happened and people got upset; some things didn't happen and other people got upset; and things went on as usual--the sun rose, I got sick, we all did our jobs, and now it's Friday and next week is Thanksgivin'.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Investments in Wisconsin's Future: Dead on Arrival

by folkbum

State Sen. Alberta Darling, in this morning's paper, has offered up what is perhaps this single most succinct description of the Republicans' plan for the next few years. Responding to an ambitious plan by Tony Evers at the Department of Public Instruction--whose winning vote margin was significantly wider than Scott Walker's--to rejigger the state's school funding formula and offer some sense of financial stability to struggling school districts, Darling called it "dead on arrival."

Which pretty well sums up, I think, the GOP answer to anything that looks long-term at Wisconsin's future. Adequate funding to teach our children? DOA. Energy sources that don't rely solely on fossil fuels? DOA. Transportation options that don't line the pockets of road builders? DOA. Scientific research that holds promise for medical breakthroughs? DOA.

The list like that is, I fear, endless, far beyond the few examples we've already seen in the two weeks since election day. Indeed, I am hard-pressed to think of a single proposal floated during or since the campaign from the Republicans that was anything other than promises to roll back advances or work done by Democrats; reopening the Las Vegas tax loophole and making it harder to vote seem to be the top priorities.

Maybe to Republican voters that sort of thing, like killing biomass and rail, sounds like "progress." But in 10 years, in 40 years, are people really going to look back on this moment in Wisconsin history and give thanks that the GOP shut down investments in our future? Is that future itself now DOA?

Friday, November 12, 2010

FriTunes: A preview of this weekend's entertainment

by folkbum

Show's sold out, so you'll just have to imagine how much I'm enjoying it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank you, to our veterans

by folkbum

We here at folkbum's rambles and rants appreciate, respect, and honor your service. Today is your day; every day is possible for us because of you.

Politi"Fact," not content to ruin election season, ruins my day AGAIN

by folkbum

This was the start of it: School begins at 8:35 in the morning, right? And students enter the building starting at 8:25. At 8:19 yesterday, the principal takes to the PA system to announce, out of the blue, that starting that day and from then on our school would be following a different bell schedule, with different start and end times to every class and lunches. But oh, the email we were supposed to get earlier announcing the change didn't go through and, by the way, we won't tell you the new times, but someone will come around to deliver a paper a copy of the new schedule ... later. Have a good day!

So all morning I'm dealing with that mess, and when I finally get a chance to catch my breath and sacrifice another prep hour on the altar of the copier--the books I requested in June, and again in September, have never arrived, so I am pushing every corner of the fair use envelope--the other teachers in the workroom assault me with "Did you see what Bob Donovan said about us today?"

Some days, you know, I would like not to be the one everybody else plumbs with their newsy questions. As low as my heart had been sunk already, it dropped another mile at that, because, well, "Did you see what Bob Donovan said about us today?" is a bad start to any conversation.

Turns out, though, it was not anything at all the Bob Donovan had said about us that day. (That I know of; I don't read all his press releases, but since it was a weekday, there probably was one.) It was, instead, did I hear what Politi"Fact" Wisconsin had said about us? Which is this. No less a depressing thing, really, but you can't completely blame Donovan.

It turns out to be a rehash of something Bob Donovan had said months ago, in a late September press release (pdf). In it, Donovan demands that the Milwaukee Public Schools declare bankruptcy, defaulting on its obligations to creditors--by which he means its retired teachers--to "start over." The wide-ranging release is full of bad math (he calls a tax levy increase from $8.84 to $10.66, a 21% change, a 33% increase, for example), misinformation, and rambling attacks on the city's public institutions.

When Donovan dropped that press release, it made no sound. Perhaps it was just lost in the chaos that was the last five weeks of the election, but a google search reveals that, besides a reprint of the release by an OnMilwaukee blogger and at, there were no media mentions or discussions of Donovan's call for MPS bankruptcy. Why Politi"Fact" Wisconsin felt the need to dig it out yesterday is beyond me.

Politi"Fact" Wisconsin focused on one claim in the release, which was, "Next year, MPS will provide $0.77 in employee benefits for every dollar it spends on salaries." I can tell you that there is nothing in that sentence that is true: Donovan doesn't mean "next year," he means this year, 2010-2011--the estimate for the 2011-2012 school year is still months away--and the number is not $0.77 but $0.74. Because I told you that the whole thing was wrong, you have probably guessed by now that Politi"Fact" Wisconsin declared it true. "Mostly true," to be accurate.

Regular readers already know the problems with the claim, even beyond the fact that he got the $0.74 number wrong. But the number is big, and inflammatory, and gives the impression that we current teachers are making out like bandits--and it's used repeatedly by those with an anti-MPS agenda like Bob Donovan and the radio squawkers in town. So it's worth repeating some things. Start with the fact that when MPS releases its salary-to-benefit ratio number, it includes all sorts of things that inflate the number: District contributions to Social Security are in that figure, as are state-mandated contributions to current-employee pensions and required calculations for future pension obligations--money not actually being spent yet. It also includes payments for retiree health insurance. Politi"fact" notes some of this and admits "that approach makes the figure higher."

But the truly insidious part of the figure is that it is calculated, of course, as a ratio, or a fraction. It's X/Y, where X is all of those costs and Y is current teachers' salaries. As with any fraction, when the denominator--Y in the case--stays the same as the numerator--X in this case--gets bigger, then the fraction is bigger. You know that 3/4 is more than 1/4. And in Milwaukee, the denominator has stayed about the same for a long time; MPS teachers have deferred raises or taken smaller raises in order to keep the good benefits that we have. Indeed, in the contract that we are expected to ratify by the end of the month, which will cover the 2009-2010 school year through 2012-2013, there are no raises at all until 2011 (as well as steep increases in what we pay for insurance). Health care costs have increased (though MPS's cost increases have been lower than average lately), meaning the fraction gets bigger and bigger with no real financial benefit to teachers; indeed, we're going backward in what we take home at the end of the day.

Donovan's release of full of other errors and distortions: He spreads the falsehood that MPS could have saved 400+ teachers' jobs by switching health care plans (covered here) and he blames low achievement in MPS for the city's poverty rate, which is like blaming a pot of boiling water for the fire on the stove. He stokes fears of tax increases even though MPS cut its tax rate for next year. He acknowledges MPS's serious financial problems, but lays them almost entirely on teachers.

But Politi"Fact" ignores all of this, and says that Donovan's "larger point" that MPS faces financial difficuty is "on the money." (Ha ha, money. Get it?) Facts, I guess, still don't matter to Politi"Fact."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Eighth verse, same as the first!

(Yeah, I know the header images and some others are MIA. I'll fix it when I get the chance.)

by folkbum

The pattern repeats: Milwaukee County executive (and now, inexplicably, Gov-elect) Scott Walker submits a fantasy budget based on smoke, mirrors, and illusion. The Milwaukee County Board, in a completely avoidable, agonizing, day-long session, eliminates most of the smoke and fantasy to pass a budget that has a chance of coexisting with reality, in the process restoring some of the cuts to services proposed by Walker and jacking the tax levy to pay for things that Walker must believe fall freely from the ether. (He haz mad money-saving negosh skillz, acolytes declare, based on nothing like fact.)

In the meantime, every other unit of government that taxes me (all run, for at least the next little while, by Democrats)--the Milwaukee Public Schools, the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Feds--are all cutting my taxes for next year* while keeping, and in some cases, like my local libraries, increasing key services.

There's a message here somewhere, I'm sure. It probably ends with, Run, Marina, Run!

* assuming the lame-duck Congress passes the middle-class tax cuts proposed by the Obama administration and supported by the Dem leadership

Monday, November 08, 2010

They hate us for our freedoms

by folkbum

Ergo, the Schlafly group believes, we should eliminate those freedoms, starting with the First Amendment.

Is it 2012 yet?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Plaisted Wrote

by folkbum

Mike's voice will be missed.

Chef Walker

By Keith R. Schmitz

Since Scott Walker has proclaimed to derail it, newly elected New York governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to ask for the federal funds dedicated to the proposed Wisconsin rail line. After all, Walker and his running mate Rebecca Palin denagrated the project, making childish fun that the train would run from Madison.

That of course conveniently overlooked the fact that Madison was not going to be the terminus, but like all major ventures there had to be a start. We'll see how likely Rebecca will be able to "throw my kids in the SUV" when peak oil eventually drives the price of gas to over $10.

Meanwhile on orders from Wisconsin Right to Life, the new gov is going to let the UW embryonic stem research die a possible quiet death, largely because a lot of the funding that kept it going has been done behind the scenes.

This is especially sad, since this form of research promises to put our state in the leading edge of the bio-medicine industry. As that grows, venture capital would be finding its way into the state, leading to further development.

This is one of the most hypocritical appeals to a far right fringe group ever. Right to Life, along with other units of the GOP in the name of the business climate have no problem with the safety net being shred or health care for all being denied. Our new Senator was concerned that a statute of limitation should be placed on pedophilia prosecutions for the good of business. This is hardly an idea of running a culture of life.

But when it comes to five cell zygotes that have a 99% chance of being flushed away, then they become bleeding hearts.

States are lining up to lure James Thomson, the father of embryonic stem cell research, ready to shower millions of dollars on his activities.

For these and no doubt more reasons to come, competing states and countries will be eating our lunch, served up by Scott Walker.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Obama and the Economy -- Two Perspectives

By Keith R. Schmitz

One of the charges that the GOP made great hay over as they spooked a herd of voters and then stampeded them over the cliff was their cry that Hussein was engaging in Socialism, particularly in the cases of the bank and automaker bailouts.

The GOP has elections to win and hopefully they know better, but as usual perspective gets manhandled in favor of shrillness. Hell, why tamper with a strategy that works, especially with the under-engagement of a big enough chunk of voters. Two articles I'd like to throw out on the topic.

The question to be asked is, was what Obama did warranted? The teeth grinders scream that Obama ruined capitalism. Timothy Eagan on the New York Times blog The Opinionator argues that in fact The President saved it.

He goes illustrating how investments have gained value in the 18 months Obama has been in office. In the process, big institutions have been prevented from going over the waterfall, and as the not-too liberal The Economist put it, "an apology is due Obama." Of course quite the opposite just took place this week, perhaps to our peril.

Admittedly one of the major features of the recovery efforts, TARP, was launched under Bush. But it was largely administered by the new folks, and the great under-reported story about the Obama people is they are darned good at running things, despite GOP efforts in the Senate to approve the people to do the work.

The stimulus program was conducted with scant corruption. Compare that to the porkfest around the Iraq invasion and other instances of graft under the Bush era.

That leads to the other question of is government intervention the new normal? In a recent piece in strategy+business from the international consulting firm booz and company, the authors observe that thanks to poor regulation on the front end, governments have been forced to intervene into failing industries.

While this makes Tea Partiers' hair stand on end, the authors argue that government butting in is necessary. Admittedly sometimes the effort doesn't work well, but other times it does, certainly when considering the sure economic collapse that would have ensued with the financial bailouts.

Even Bush admits that in his new book. Closer to home, letting the automakers succumb to their own miss-management would have radiated fatal effects to the many support industries here in Wisconsin.

Again, there is evidence that the Obama administration did its job in leading these companies out of the wilderness as evidenced by the money returned to the US Treasury. It could be argued that the sweetheart deals favored by the Bush administration would not have resulted in as good of an outcome.

The authors in fact conclude that now governments not just in this country are assuming the role of stakeholders in affected companies, and that moving forward this kind of action is here to stay as a means of mitigating crisis situations.

The third question that remains, is with the onslaught of extremely doctrinaire right wingers into Congress in a so-called triumph of capitalism, would the new lack of flexibility ultimate kill it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

You Can Laugh Again

by folkbum

Starting with a flashback! Not many of you know the Real True Story of my actual debut on Milwaukee TV news. It was the Friday night after 9/11/01, and my wife and I had--bought earlier, obviously--tickets to Comedy Sportz that night.

We weighed whether or not to go, and had to call to see if CSz was even going to be open that weekend. They were, and it turned out to be a big crowd, in fact. The national anthem took on some additional weight, and the players were hesitant about some things, but all in all it was a good night.

Before the show, there was a channel 58 reporter--I forget her name, though she was only about three feet tall, I remember that--hanging out in the parking lot soliciting interviews. I am pretty sure she wasn't reaching for the Look At How UnAmerican These People Are Going To A Comedy Show After Nine-Eleven story, but I was still wary. Still, being an opinionated bastard, I agreed to be interviewed, and (in my memory at least) took a strong If We Stop Being Ourselves Then The Terrorists Have Won argument. And I made the cut and got to watch myself on Milwaukee TV news that night at 10. True Story!

Why am I telling you this? Because many of my readers probably feel they can Never Laugh Again After The Disaster That Was Tuesday Night. But you can! I promise! You can even laugh at me, at Comedy Sportz, as my CSz Rec League team takes on some other bunch of scrubs this Sunday at 4 PM. Matches start at 2 PM, so come early for more laughs. The shows are free!

Admitting Too Much

by folkbum

Scott Fitzgerald clearly believes the Republicans' sweep of the elections Tuesday was the result of widespread voter fraud.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

McIlheran Watch: Affordable Care Act votes and Dems' fates

by folkbum

I am still blessed/cursed with being on Patrick McIlheran's email pimp list, so in my inbox this evening was a preview of his gloaty McGloat-gloat column running tomorrow. It includes this stupid paragraph:
Nothing was so fatal to House Democrats, especially newbies, than to have voted for Obamacare. Dozens fell, including Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Appleton). The one Republican who favored it lost.
The last part of the paragraph is true--Anh Joseph Cao* in Louisiana, an R in a deep blue urban district lost, and Kagen, a D in a district held by Rs for something like 90 of the last 100 years, lost, too. But he blames both losses on votes for a single bill, not the much more weighty evidence of demographics and history. Which is lazy, if not totally stupid. (*Cao did not vote for final passage in March 2010, but he did vote for an earlier version in December 2009.)

What is totally stupid, is the first part--the suggestion that uniformly a vote against the Affordable Care Act was a killer for Democrats. To show the stupidity of that statement, let me offer you some, you know, evidence:
  • Democrats who voted for ACA: 202 (17, including Wisconsin's Dave Obey, retired not counted)
  • Democrats who voted for ACA and lost: About 40 (some races undecided)
  • Pro-ACA losing percentage: 20%
  • Democrats who voted against ACA: 31 (and 3 who retired not counted)
  • Democrats who voted against ACA and lost: 18 (Ben Chandler may lose in KY, but is presently winning)
  • Anti-ACA losing percentage: 58%
Now, clearly, there are demographic and historical factors at play here, too; I mean, Gwen Moore wasn't about to lose to Dan Sebring no matter how many empty commercial buildings and crack houses sported his yard signs, period. Even considering all the flipped house seats--about 65, including three R to D switches--the whole House turnover rate was less than 15% this year, so incumbency, period, is a boon to a electoral chances.

But if we're playing by McIlheran's stupid rules--it's his column I'm playing with, so his rules!--that means it was three times more likely that Democrats opposing the ACA would lose. McIlheran needs to rewrite that first sentence of his, then, to be more accurate: "Nothing was so fatal to House Democrats, especially Blue Dogs, than to have voted against Obamacare."

That's an accurate statement, and much less stupid, based on the facts, than the crap McIlheran is dropping.

Day-After Thoughts

by folkbum

I began blogging from the minority, and if I keep going--I'm really, really tired, people, so I make no promises--I can do it again.


Last weekend, I spent some time in airports. (Next Halloween I will be going as a layover, rather than being stuck in one. Scary!) I walked past a man proudly sporting a t-shirt that read "Loosing is not an option!" I don't know what the back of the shirt said--maybe the man was a professional tightener and his shirt was a reasonable affirmation?--but I was, at that moment, deeply ashamed to be an American. The Indonesian children in the sweatshop where that shirt was undoubtedly made of course knew no better. But the chain of failure beyond that, from the person writing the slogan to the workers at the store where it was unpacked, displayed, and sold, to the man who bought it and the people around him who let him wear it, in public(!)--that chain of failure was at once both characteristically modern America and profoundly disturbing.


When I first moved to Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson was governor, Bob Kasten was US Senator, Republicans held much of the levers of power in Madison and Washington. We survived. If antecedents are worth anything, there is that to keep in mind.

Today's breed of Republican is different, though; more than ever, what makes up the bulk of Republican rhetoric is a clear avowal that government is the enemy. As in all religions, the followers of Reagan choose to remember only what they wish to, and his glib observation that government is the problem rather than the solution has become the modern GOP's catechism. Reagan, or at least the people working for him, had a decided interest in governing, and though I blame him for all evils of contemporary life--just on principle, you know--his administration did not, in fact, treat governing as beneath contempt.

When someone like Ron Johnson, who for all I know is a nice enough guy in person and maybe even a reasonably talented businessman, can explicitly campaign on a platform of, "I don't have any ideas for how to govern, except for repealing stuff that other people did, so stop asking questions now, thanks" can unseat a Russ Feingold, it bodes poorly for all of us.

Though I never agreed 100% with Feingold, there was also never a question of his intent. He was a true believer in the idea that government should be an active force for good in society, that not only can we do better, but that it is our moral imperative to do so. Knowing that, Feingold's votes were 100% predictable, even if they were against his party or even against what I would have done. Feingold was the only Senator to read the full U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act before voting, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay. Feingold appreciated the "advise and consent" role of the Senate as stated in the Constitution and, not coincidentally, voted yea on too many Bush nominees for my taste. Feingold recognized the failings this year's financial reform bill--not that it was a bailout, as was the GOP spin, but that it failed to reform the parts of the regulatory environment that led to the housing bubble and financial collapse, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay. And though the TARP program, according to people who know the financial system better than I, staved off a bigger collapse and ended up costing a fraction of what was predicted, Feingold accurately noted that the bailout saved those who caused the collapse from any responsibility by putting taxpayers on the hook, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay.

Despite party and political pressures in case after case, Feingold put the moral imperative ahead of expediency.

For as little as we know about Ron Johnson, we do know his moral imperative was inspired not by a belief in the potential of these United States, but by Ayn Rand and Dick Morris.

Well, no: I say we, but I don't think it was really we, for the Wisconsin and national media allowed Johnson to remain a cipher, onto which teaparty boneheads and disaffected independents could project their own wishes. Johnson's campaign, though largely bankrolled by the wealth he married into (he was a "self-made man," the media told us), was also financed by those bailed-out banks, still alive and able to fork over the dough because of government intervention. His business benefitted from the kind of government help he claimed was an infringement on liberty. His employees lean upon government assistance to provide the health insurance he doesn't.

Ron Johnson sold Wisconsin a "Loosing is not an option!" t-shirt.

So my sincerest thanks to Russ Feingold for his years of service to Wisconsin and the nation.


It was so nice to see the teapartiers energized and excited to dis-elect career politicians ... like John McCain, Rob Portman, Dan Coates, Marco Rubio, Jim Sensenbrenner, Scott Walker ...


I can't blame voters too much for electing Scott Walker. I am not a fan--I live in Milwaukee County so I've seen what he can do--but the fact is that Democrats suffered a tremendous recruitment fail. I don't know what made Barb Lawton drop out or Ron Kind think he should wait to run for Herb Kohl's seat (maybe we'll get back to having one non-millionaire Senator), but here's the thing. My standard gotcha question for Walker supporters I met in real life (I have one) was this: Name one good thing Walker has done for Milwaukee County. This is not an easy question to answer.

But if you ask that question about Barrett and the city of Milwaukee--and I have asked it of myself, many times--the answers are just as hard to come by.

I like Barrett, I do, and he has nothing to be ashamed about for the campaign he ran. But the time he's spent keeping Milwaukee in a holding pattern--that just doesn't make for a marquee, top-of-the-ticket resume.

But here's the new thing: Walker's win, with the GOP takeback of the legislature and split control of Congress, means that anyone whose primary job is helping the poor, the sick, the disabled, or the unemployed, your job just got harder. There is no doubt that budgets for schools, transit, health care, and more will be slashed. (Prison spending will continue unabated with no one in WIGOP leadership blinking an eye. Roads, too.) Anything with the word "public" in it is in danger--parks, schools, buses, lands, whatever. Get ready.


Thank AquaBuddha that we're finally going to put a stop to the NAFTA Superhighway.


Billions of pixels will be spent this week explaining why things went as they did, but there is one real reason, one we've touched on here before: The economy. Imagine if all the accomplishments of the Democratic Congress--from the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to health insurance reform that is working--the number of small businesses offering insurance next year is up for the first time in a decade!--were accompanied by, say, 7% unemployment and moderate positive GDP growth. Republicans pick up an handful of seats, yes, but there's no wave.

The stimulus spending that there was, much of it eaten by things people didn't even notice, like individual and business tax cuts, didn't cause additional job losses, despite the GOP's lies to that effect. But you can't argue that it didn't save jobs from being lost--I have colleagues right now who are not collecting unemployment because a stimulus project is employing them, and you probably know someone in a similar spot (hey there, incoming-Rep. Ribble!). What it seems not to have done well enough was stimulate new job growth. Though private sector job growth has been positive for the better part of a year now--it's true! look it up!--demand is still sluggish and employers are not willing to take new risks for no or uncertain reward. This is where Democrats in Washington let down the rest of us.

It was good to see many of the "Blue Dog" conservatives lose last night--about half the Blue Dog caucus in the House went down--because their priority seemed to have been stopping stimulus. To get their support, and to try for Republican support, too, the stimulus was weak and full of insufficiently stimulating provisions, like those tax cuts. (Tax cuts are among the least effective means of stimulating growth.) Yet their efforts to work against the progressive, and as it turned out, right members of the party ended in defeat for them anyway. The irony being, of course, that the bigger stimulus they opposed might have made the economy better enough more of them could have kept their jobs.

It is sad, however, to see many good progressive Dems fall as well, including Steve Kagen up in WI-08. Kagen always had a challenge, winning and holding that conservative district in the last two wave years. This wave was too big in the other direction.


Dire warnings about Milwaukee Democratic primary voters' having turned out weak Dem Jeff Plale in favor of liberal Chris Larson turned out to be hot air. Larson beat Republican Jess Ripp in a landslide.

Congrats are also due to My State Rep Josh Zepnick, who was unopposed, and to My State Senator Tim Carpenter, who won a surprisingly tough race: The moderate Carpenter had far slimmer margin of victory (350 votes!) than the liberal Larson did. UPDATE: The totals were wrong, and Carpenter's race wasn't that close. And Kathleen Vinehout held on in a tight one, too. Sadly, many of the other lean-R districts that Democrats won in the wave of 2006--including Jim Sullivan's, John Lehman's, and Pat Kreitlow's--have gone back to R.


Another reason Republicans came back: This year's electorate was older, and they turned out in droves to make sure that Congress kept their government paws off Medicare.


It will be interesting to watch the GOP deal with Paul Ryan--a true believer in a very different sense--in charge of writing the budget. Ryan's "Roadmap," while a favorite of the winger press's wankertocracy, was shunned by GOPers who were afraid that they might actually have to vote for it or run on it as a platform. Even in Wisconsin, RoJo and Ribble and Sean Duffy and others, when confronted, could muster at best a weak "Ryan's ideas are a starting point."

When Feingold announced he was not running for president in the 2008 cycle, it was easy to guess why: He had a plum committee assignment and a majority to work with. Will the same truth about Ryan keep him in the House when Kohl's seat is up 2012? Or will his GOP colleagues' likely unwillingness to follow his lead on Medicare and Social Security push him to the upper chamber?


And, finally, my prediction for which investigation Darrell Issa launches first: Christmas tree ornaments.

I know, I know, everyone is expecting New Black Panthers or maybe the job offer to Sestak, but I refuse to underestimate Issa's crazy.


Remember, Democrats in 2012: Loosing is not an option!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Official 2010 Elections prediction thread

by folkbum

Please make your own in the comments below. Me, I'm making just one: I will stay up too late and wish I had gone to bed early.

TUESDAY, 10PM UPDATE: My prediction came true!

Friday, October 29, 2010

FriTunes: Have a safe weekend

by folkbum

A nice song set on Halloween:

And a reminder of what can go wrong if you party too hard this weekend:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eight lies people believe

by folkbum

I'm sure you've seen this by now, but my posting abilities are a bit hampered by circumstance and temperament lately, so this is what you get:
Here are eight of the biggest myths that are out there:
1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
3) President Obama bailed out the banks.
4) The stimulus didn't work.
5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.
6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.
7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is "going broke," people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.
8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Click through for a link-laden check of reality on all these items, especially those of you who think some of them may be true (Ron Johnson, you for example need a brushup on #4 and #7; Scott Walker, you need to check out #5 before you blow that hole in Wisconsin's budget).

Oh, and:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh, Thank God

by folkbum

UPDATED to add:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wisconsin Senatorial Apples and Oranges

By Keith R. Schmitz

Swim in this political pool enough and you can smell a talking point a mile away.

When the subject comes up of RoJo's attempt to campaign from a TV studio while trying to buy the election with money from his inflated salary, his defenders will ask what's the difference between him and Herb Kohl.

A big one in fact.

Johnson wants to get into office to essentially vote for policies that will increase his personal fortune, at the expense of the general good.

While no one could accuse Herb of being a progressive, his voting record tended towards supporting policies that would not necessarily increase the Kohl family personal fortune, but enhance the public good.

Actually smart people recognize that many of the things Herb has backed did increase his fortune, and all of ours in the bargain.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's no wonder Ron Johnson is escaping media attention

by folkbum

Consider the Senate candidate competition:

In Kentucky, the Republican nominee either a) is too stupid to man up to his frat boy hijinks and apologize or b) a believer in aqua-Buddhism, where the preferred method of proselytizing is kidnapping women and dragging them to lakes in the nighttime.

In Nevada, the Republican nominee is a white woman who can't tell the difference between Latinos, Asians, and Canadians.

In Alaska, the Republican nominee has such a raging fetish for East Germany he wants to build the Laredo Wall and has the New Stasi working for him.

In Oregon, the Republican nominee lives in Washington State. (Sorry--that's the Republican candidate for governor.) In West Virginia, the Republican nominee lives in Florida.

In Illinois, the Republican nominee is a liar so serial he would lie about teaching at a church school. In North South Carolina, the Democratic nominee (gotta be fair!) is a porn-loving basement-dweller.

That Johnson has managed to, so far, not be as bad as any of those, has meant that a lot of press normally reserved for extremists like Johnson has been diverted elsewhere. Under normal circumstances, a candidate who suggests that Americans need re-education and that sunspots cause climate change and that poor minority home owners brought down the global banking system would be under a spotlight.

Lucky for him, the competition for craziest girl at the ball is pretty stiff this year. Unlucky for Wisconsin, we may have to go home with RoJo anyway.

RIP Kathy Carpenter

by folkbum

The Cheddarsphere has lost a long-time voice.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scott Walker and Charlie Sykes

by bert

As the couple walked back hand-in-hand from their picnic in a flower-speckled members-only meadow, Scott Walker could not conceal dread in a sigh that escaped his lips.

“Is something troubling you my dear?,” Charlie Sykes asked.

“Oh Charlie, you know me better than I know myself. There is a small worry.”

“Then please dear, by all means tell me. You know we have no secrets between us."

“Well, it’s just that ... that attackskit or whatever you call it that your station WTMJ-AM produced to attack Russ Feingold.”

“Right, I know sweetie, we manipulate sound bites from Feingold and use a voice actor that sounds nothing like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in order to drill Orwell-style the image into listener’s minds that Feingold is a lap dog beholden to the wishes of Reid. What’s the problem?”

“Well, it’s just that...”

"Is it that I only command the resources of our station, a powerful means of disseminating information to a broad range of society over a good fraction of the state’s area, in order to speciously attack Democrats. That the only other time I produced one was to liken Jim Doyle’s unwillingness to expand charter schools in Milwaukee to the opposition by Orville Faubus to black students attending the Little Rock schools?"

Are you going to say that I could just as easily on the few occasions that we produce those little skits use that means to, say, promote volunteerism to improve Milwaukee schools, or solicit donations to Earthquake victims in Haiti?"

“Oh, no, no, no.” and Scott breaks out in a hearty laugh, covering his mouth with the white glove on his left hand. Charlie joins in the hearty laugh. “You wouldn’t use your show to address any real problems. Come on.”

“Of course not. Then what it is my snookums?”

“Well, if you are saying that Feingold is not independent, but instead linked to the will of another public figure, are you going to lead people to the fact that I am strongly linked to you and your will, that I am far from independent but really largely a product of your political strategy and the priceless hours of time given to glorifying me with no hint of tough questions or a voice for my opponents? Aren’t I your lap dog, Charlie?”

“Now, now Scott,” and Charlie ruffled Scott’s hair as a tease. “Have you never heard of Karl Rove? I am doing to Feingold that tactic Rove teaches where you attack an enemy on precisely the theme that should be their strong point”

“I don’t know about any of that political strategy stuff. That’s why I have you,” said Scott. "But, still, it might seem wrong, even funny, that you are attacking others for being in the control of some Svengali. Why, you have the word 'Svengali' tattooed on your cute little bicep.”

“Look, Scott, listen to me.” And hear Charlie stopped their walk toward the carriage and turned to face Scott. Charlie cradled Scott's cheeks in between his palms and looked into his quivering eyes. “That fact that I do it, or any right-wing radio guy does it, is exactly why we accuse the enemy of doing it.”

Scott only tilted his head like a lab puppy, looking quizzical.

Here Charlie chuckled, and tousled Scott’s hair.

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head,” Charlie said. “I’ll handle it.”

“And when I get to be governor?” Scott asked.

“I’ll be right there beside you, sweetheart.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010


by folkbum

I have to admit, the twitter can be fun sometimes. The news that Ron Johnson also believes that the Community Reinvestment Act--a law that did not apply to that vast majority of subprime lenders who caused the housing crash--is responsible for the recession got me wondering what else RoJo believes.

Add your own here! If you twitterate, that is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sometimes the elected officials do some unqualified good

by folkbum

From a release by my alderman, Tony Zielinski:
My office and appropriate city departments have been working with the [Milwaukee] Journal/Sentinel to address the unwanted delivery of Marketplace ads on people's stoops and yards.

After making it clear that citations will be flowing to the Journal/Sentinel if unwanted deliveries were continued there finally has been a resolution.

Instead of littering people's stoops and yards the Journal/Sentinel will start mailing the ads. This will address the garbage and litter nuisance caused by these ads.
The bags from those ads end up as litter everywhere, and they're not recyclable. It will be nice not to see them cluttering the city any more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Yes, but will Ron Johnson ask the Chamber to name ITS foreign contributors?

by folkbum

At tonight's debate--observed here at casa folkbum entirely through the twitterations of locals who didn't have better things to do--Ron Johnson said he would ask the groups running ads in his favor to disclose their contributors' names, contra the recent Citizens United case.

At least, that's what the twitterers said, all, um, atwitter.

This is a great idea, and if Johnson lives up to that promise good for him. But I think he can do more, so so much more. More than I can say clearly in words. So, a picture!

Blogger's limitations being what they are, the graphic may be hard to see--you can click the pic to go straight to ThinkProgress whence the flowchart originated. The short version of it, though, is that the Chamber of Commerce takes in a ton of money from interests outside the United States. Those funds flow directly into a pot of money from which the Chamber is buying ads all over the country, including in the Wisconsin Senate race here.

The Chamber has refused to name names but they won't deny that they're doing what they're doing.

So how about it, Johnson? Will you ring up your buddies at the Chamber and ask them to name not just names, but the foreign interests those names represent? I have a guess at the answer--it's the same one your friends in the Senate chamber have been saying for four years straight: no.