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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Also liars: the Republican apologists commenting on this blog

by folkbum

Last week I offered a fairly blistering screed about how Republicans are callously sitting by and letting the record numbers of long-term unemployed starve rather than do an easy, moral thing and extend benefits.

Predictably, the Republican apologists trolled by here to explain that, no, really, Republicans don't actually want people to starve! The problem is those mean Democrats who keep adding a bunch of unrelated bogus-y stuff to the extension bills that just force Republicans to do the hard work of voting no, for the good of the people.

So word broke this morning that the Senate would be considering an unemployment extension that was essentially stripped down to just that. Gone was aid to states that would have saved thousands of jobs, for example, and many other things that, according to the loyal rightie commenters here, were the death knell of those previous bills.

In short, Democrats caved completely to Republicans demands to trim this bill to the bare bones. According to the commenters to last week's post, this should have been a cinch, right?

And the predictable answer to that question is, of course, no, with Republican Senators voting unanimously nearly unanimously against cloture on this stripped-down version of the bill. It will take at least two weeks before the Senate can get back to the extension. By then, of course, we'll have the June employment numbers (out this Friday) with the topline number expected to be up--if not over 10% again.

So what's the excuse this time? When the teaparterati show up in the comments overnight tonight, what will they use to justify the inhumanity this time? Or will they finally be honest and admit that Republicans are gaming this to boost their chances in November, with the 55% of America touched by this recession the ones really paying the price?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Scott Walker is a damn liar

by folkbum

Or, at least, Jill Bader, Walker's communications director and email scribe, is*. (Bader was last seen two weeks ago cheering on a bogus investigation of our friend capper that, to date, has resulted in wasted taxpayer dollars at the DA's office but not a single substantiated charge. Way to back a winner, Jill!)

Some smartass (to borrow a word) signed me up for Walker's email updates at some point so I got tonight's missive. It's about jobs--isn't everything?--and in it, Bader makes a ridiculous claim. "Scott won't sacrifice your job to score political points," Bader writes, apparently because putting people out of work is what Republicans imagine Democrats like to do.

What's funn-- No, not funny. It's actually pretty awful. What's awful about it is that Scott Walker has made a career out of sacrificing people's jobs to score political points. It's one of just two or three plays Walker has in his playbook (the others are "Call Charlie" and "Make a goofy commercial.")

(Also, I am still waiting for Walker to speak up for the 1000 or so people just laid off from my employer--something he can't do because he actually scores political points with his base by shutting up about it.)

But here is a partial list of jobs that Walker has sacrificed in his time as Milwaukee County Executive:
  • All of the security guards at courthouses and other buildings
  • All housekeeping staff
  • All food service jobs
  • Most of the parks workers
  • Staff at BHD: nurses, CNAs, specialized therapists and doctors
  • Clerical staff who help the few remaining county workers get the job done
  • Highway workers
  • Firefighters at the airport
  • Economic Support staff (until the state takeover)
  • However many people lost their jobs when 20,000 of them had their transit routes cut off
And every time this has happened, Walker has trumpeted his decisions as sound and responsible and evidence why he should be running things rather than the Democrats or David Reimer or Lena Taylor.

So what nerve does Scott Walker think he has that he can make promises like this, make claims about his job credibility? Because he has none. None! And to top it off, the email is begging for money on the premise that the jobs that may be lost at Bucyrus will be lost because of the policies and almost at the behest of Tom Barrett--though Barrett, of course, has publicly announces he'll be pleading Bucyrus's case personally to the president tomorrow.

So, to recap: Scott Walker blames Tom Barrett (no politicization, there!) for job losses that Barrett is trying hard to stop. And Scott Walker claims he won't "sacrifice" any jobs for "political points," though he has done that repeatedly over the last ten years. How did he get to be the standard-bearer for the GOP?

* Bader is also bad at grammar: "That’s why Scott sent a letter to the president, urging the reversal of policies to 'curbs global warming' at the cost of good paying American jobs."

Behold the Future

by folkbum

Our economy continues to be in a tremendous demand-side slump, and yet the teapartier/ conservative/ Republican/ heartless bastard side of the argument insists we cannot afford more stimulus or even to extend unemployment for the historically unprecedented number of long-term unemployed who simply cannot find jobs in a stagnant economy.

The results of such austerity are clear in places that have already tried it. Behold, teabggers, the future you envision for America:
Nearly two years ago, an economic collapse forced Ireland to cut public spending and raise taxes, the type of austerity measures that financial markets are now pressing on most advanced industrial nations.

“When our public finance situation blew wide open, the dominant consideration was ensuring that there was international investor confidence in Ireland so we could continue to borrow,” said Alan Barrett, chief economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland. “A lot of the argument was, ‘Let’s get this over with quickly.’ ”

Rather than being rewarded for its actions, though, Ireland is being penalized. Its downturn has certainly been sharper than if the government had spent more to keep people working. Lacking stimulus money, the Irish economy shrank 7.1 percent last year and remains in recession.
Reading further into the article, you can see that the Irish public's fears over reduced wages and double-digit unemployment have led to reduced consumer spending and increased consumer savings, shrinking demand--just like we're seeing here. Imposing austerity measures and suddenly panicking about short-term deficits strangled what life was left in Europe's most US-like economy. If we follow that path, we can expect the same results. We might cut short-term deficits, but we'll guarantee long-term economic death.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I see those lousy public employee unions are at it again

by folkbum

Jacking up compensation packages for do-nothing slackers.

One of those fat slobby public employee union members actually had the nerve to say this:
"What does it take to get Brett Favre to throw the football down the field? He's a very talented guy, and you're going to have to pay him the money," Fischer said. " . . . It's no different with teachers, firefighters and garbage collectors. You're going to have to pay them. Whether people like it or not, you have to pay them a competitive wage or you're not going to get the highest caliber social workers or officers. That's just the way it is. That's the system."
I say fire them all! Welcome the real world, beeyotches!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Best of wishes to Sen. Byrd and his family

by folkbum

Robert Byrd has been in the United States Senate for nearly a quarter of that body's existence. He should be allowed to leave on his own terms, not those of any illness.

Update: And he has passed, overnight.

Seniority and Layoffs

by folkbum

It's really hard to know where to start on today's Alan Borsuk piece.

He's writing about the Milwaukee Public Schools layoffs (a common topic ... speaking of which, have you signed the petition yet?), with the near-ubiquitous commentariat point of view that layoffs should not be done based on seniority.

I oppose the layoffs, to be sure, and I know that among the 480 or so teachers lost, there were many great ones. (The home-ec teacher was laid off from my school, for example, and she had nearly 20 years in the district, and the kids and the rest of the staff loved her.) The best hope for bringing them back is a federal bailout--complain all you want about deficit spending, but at least this particular bill we'll stick our children with is going to be spent on them rather than on airlines or autos or banks. It would also be nice of MPS actually sat down at the bargaining table with its union instead of bargaining in the media. All of these are too much to hope for, I know, I know. But back to Borsuk.

Without seriously addressing the complications of changing a system--I'll get to them in a minute, because I believe they need addressing--Borsuk offers three bullet points suggesting why laying off the least-senior teachers solely for that reason is a bad idea:
• Dimming the appeal of teaching: Not hiring new teachers has ripple effects that go beyond the immediate situation. How do you draw high-quality people to teaching when they don't have confidence in the prospects for jobs, no matter how good they are at it, a college president asked me the other day in an informal conversation. It's hard enough to get people interested in teaching, particularly top-shelf college students. Widespread layoffs targeting new teachers only make that worse.

• Putting out the unwelcome mat: Finishing its first year in Milwaukee, Teach for America, the Peace Corps-like effort that places high-quality college graduates in high-needs schools for two years, has numbers to show that, overall, the members working in MPS moved their students forward at a good pace, often more than a year's progress in a year. Twenty-four of the 37--all who were not in special education or bilingual jobs, basically--got layoff notices. Many of them may end up in charter schools and alternative schools rather than general MPS schools. Fifty more members being readied to work this fall are likely to end up in special ed or in schools not staffed by MPS employees. Teach for America is controversial, and its members don't want to be treated differently than other young teachers. But TFA offers fresh commitment, energy and quality to MPS--an offer that is in danger of, in effect, being spurned.

• Disrupting school communities: Many MPS schools are losing at least several teachers. Ask principals how they feel about this happening with no attention to who among the staff would actually be best to keep around next year. You're not likely to get cheerful answers. One potential twist to this: Some teachers will get called back at the last minute and assigned to different schools or grades, starting the year with almost no chance to prepare. A successful school almost always has a staff that works well together. These kinds of disruptions hurt efforts to build that.
The seniority rules at MPS have no impact on any of these, or at least, if changed, would not have the opposite effect. For example, the first. This past school year at my high school, there were five student teachers in my department. All five spread applications far and wide across the state--that is, on the rare occasions open positions were posted around the state. Just one had a job last I heard. The current crisis in school funding and school staffing is not limited to MPS. In fact, I am certain that MPS will have more first-year teachers in its classrooms come fall than any other Wisconsin district, and probably more than all 25 of its neighboring districts combined. No one is hiring anywhere, and it can't be because the Milwaukee teachers union has its grubby mitts in districts everywhere, can it?

Or the second. I have come to appreciate Teach for America's recruitment and training regimen moreso than traditional schools of education, and I would like to see it used to recruit teachers who aren't on two-year contracts building a resume before hitting grad school or some other career. But you can't convince me either A) that an organization as savvy as TfA didn't know what it was getting into when it signed up for Milwaukee, with its budget and enrollment situation, or that 2) keeping the laid off TfA members for the second year of their two-year contract (and who, TfA's own data show, are likely then to leave the district anyway) is a better investment than keeping someone who has made a commitment to this city and its schools.

Or the third. Is there a way to remove any teacher without disrupting a community? And is there any reason to believe that "asking principals how they feel" will result in the best-staffed schools? Borsuk knows as well as anyone that the biggest example of rolling up the welcome mat in MPS in the last few years is what MPS did to New Leaders for New Schools. A national program designed to recruit, train, and retain top-notch school principals came to MPS at our urging, and bailed as of the end of this year. Why? Because MPS used and abused the "new leaders" and refused to follow the program's protocol. What MPS ended up with was, rather than a corps of energetic, young, talented leaders, a pool of principals perpetuating the poor leadership MPS has known for the last decade. Even when MPS managed to get one right, as happened at Dover St. School this year when a new leader actually did the job shadowing and training to take over from a principal who was retiring, MPS kicked the new leader out in favor of a displaced "leadership specialist" from Central Office (yes, some people there have lost their positions, regardless of what you may have heard about their job security). This has disrupted a school community, I kid you not.

But my point in all of that is that principals are not always the best impartial judges of who stays and goes. Principals bring with them coteries of friends and colleagues when they change buildings, if they can. (Some day I will tell you how I lost my department chairmanship the year I left Madison.) Principals will move squeaky wheels in favor of compliant ones. (I had a principal threaten me because I asserted my rights under the contract, about something not related to the classroom.) And principals do not take seriously their role in evaluating teachers. I personally was observed, in my first five years with MPS when observations and evaluations are mandatory, for a total of about half an hour. Not per year or per observation, but total. I have not been formally observed once, ever, by any of the last three principals I have served under, nor by any of their assistants, who can technically be deployed to do such work. I am supposed to be formally evaluated every three years; the last evaluation I signed was from the 2004-2005 school year. A colleague of mine at a school I will not name, up for evaluation this year, was not observed, and was told, in fact, "Well, I know how you teach." That colleague didn't see or sign an evaluation form this year, either.

In short, if ever you want to get teachers to concede that principals deserve input on who should stay or go in their buildings outside of the seniority structure, you need to make sure that principals are qualified to do that. Erin Richards's story a couple of weeks about about the layoffs featured the principal of Bradley Tech. I know him, having worked with him back when he was a teacher, and I am certain that if he approaches his principal duties with the commitment and quality he had as a teacher, then he is likely to be making very good decisions and judgments about the teachers in his building. But I cannot say that for every principal in the district that I know or have worked for, including some who were seen as rising stars and that the district now wishes they were rid of.

Further, there is no easy or good or objective way to know if, for example, a teacher that would have been let go from Tech is any better or worse than a teacher who might be staying at some other school. If Tech is working on a particular curriculum or challenge that one teacher may not like or be suited for, despite her ability, should that teacher be sitting at the unemployment office, pink slip in hand, because some other principal at some other school isn't as conscientious about holding teachers accountable or weeding out poor performers? (Because yes, there are steps to take to get rid of bad teachers and no, they're not that hard for principals to do, but no, principals don't take them as often as they should.)

Finally, in MPS as many as half its new-hires leave the district within five years. A first- or second-year teacher may be great, effective, dedicated to his students. But the data suggest that he may well be gone soon whether we lay him off or not; in fact, it's often the best teachers who get a few years under their belt--or have a child they'd rather raise in the suburbs--and take off for greener pastures outside the city schools. It seems kind of dumb to me to punish those who have taken the harder path, sticking with the challenging assignment and the residency requirement and the lower pay, in favor of an unknown quantity who may have one eye on the door.

Granted, a lot of this is generalizations (except, of course, for the specific cases). Every great veteran teacher was a young teacher once who would have been laid off if there had been layoffs at that time, so clearly not all young teachers will leave us anyway. And not every veteran teacher is great (no one seems to want to try to quantify just how many of us lazy, good-for-nothing, clock-punching pension-padders there are)--though I have never known a teacher who actively hates the job and the kids to stick around long enough to become a veteran.

I am long since on the record for being willing to change pay structures and even tenure rules. But Borsuk's commentary today--remember that? that's where we started 1500 words ago--is not an argument to do so, or even a particularly well reasoned attack on seniority. If you want to make the case for changing the system, you need something more than three weak bullet points.


Two related points that just didn't fit in above: One, it is a lie to say the private sector doesn't work on seniority. When my brother and my wife lost their jobs in this recession, both were the least-senior in their non-union. private-sector jobs. And two, it is ironic that the same people who bitterly carp about the failure of government in some way or another when the private sector lays off or outsources jobs are the ones crowing that layoffs have hit the schools. If, say, Bucyrus-Erie laid off 1,000 employees this month, you'd better believe that Sykes and Walker and Belling and the conservative blogs would be howling about the failure of the city or the state to save these jobs. I have two words for those people, the second of which is you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

FriTunes: Related to the Below Edition

by folkbum

I'm not saying Republicans want people starving to death in the streets

by folkbum

But it does seem to me that their strategy of cutting off money for people who can't find work to feed themselves or their families might just lead to that consequence before too long.

My brother was out of work from late 2008 until last month, and not because he is a lazy moocher--he'd just had his first child when he was downsized from what was a difficult but rewarding blue-collar job--but because there just wasn't any work available for him to do. A few interviews, sure, but no one was hiring. My parents can't take care of him (my dad isn't working now since his illness and my mom has to be there to take care of him); nor can his wife's family, facing its own medical crisis; and here at chez folkbum, we're just getting back to stability after half of us were also unemployed last year (indeed, there was a worrisome period of about six months last year when I was the only working member of my immediate family). If he hadn't been offered the (lower-paying-drive-three-hours-a-day-that-is-if-they-need-him-that-day) job he was a few weeks ago, the Republicans' actions here would have almost cut him off completely.

Every serious economist recognizes the stimulative value of unemployment insurance: You give people money to spend who have none, they spend it. They're not tucking their UI benefits in a mattress or growing their stock portfolios--they're out there buying food, renting vacant housing space, and using the services of our service economy.

It's possible the Republicans are stupid and don't know this. It's possible they're heartless bastards who know this and figure a worse-off economy is better for their chances in November. I'm inclined to the latter, personally, but I could be convinced of the former if you have a good argument to make.

In the meantime, get ready for the coming disaster.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

CRG "scared-silent" campaign FAIL

by folkbum

Ol' capper pulls off the rare and difficult Wisopinion Daily Double.

We hear he stuck the landing, too.


by folkbum

Proof that global warming is a hoax.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Name That School

by folkbum

I am a bit slow to get around to this piece, from Alan Borsuk on Sunday, about the plight of an inner-city Milwaukee school:
It's been a difficult few years for the 56-year-old school. Enrollment declined from close to the building's capacity of 400 to about 300. Competition increased from [] private schools, charter schools and even suburban public schools.

The level of academic success at [this school] wasn't much different than [the average scores of the] Milwaukee Public Schools, which means it wasn't very good.

Some students who enrolled were far behind grade level and the school wasn't doing well in accelerating their achievement. The student body had become much less diverse--higher-income and white students had just about all departed, 90% of the students [met low-income requirements], and the student body was about evenly split between African-American and Hispanic.
Now, those of you who have already read the story or clicked through know the punchline, but be how many of you read that excerpt thinking, "What's so newsworthy about another failing MPS school?" The punchline, of course, is that the school is not, in fact, related to MPS. It's St. Joan Antida, and East Side all-girls Catholic school.

And yet every aspect of this school's story--with one or two notable exceptions--is familiar to MPS schools all across the city. MPS has seen its enrollment decline, and individual schools city-wide face empty seats and classrooms that put tremendous pressures on their site budgets. This is true because MPS faces fierce competition and loses more than 30,000 students a year to the burbs or vouchers or other competing entities. In fact, the notion of competition has poisoned MPS schools, pitting them against each other in ugly battles for students.

MPS schools have majority-minority enrollments which often creates conflicts in cultural expectations. MPS schools all have high poverty enrollments; 79% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and in many schools the concentration is much higher. (The part I elided above is about voucher enrollment, a slightly different measure of poverty.) And, of course, these factors and others combine to affect student performance.

The story even goes on to describe the school's struggle to add engineering courses and Advanced Placement courses, even against the odds of ninth-graders who enter well below grade level--more familiar challenges MPS schools face all the time.

One of the notable exceptions is special education. Borsuk's story doesn't mention St. Joan's special education population, but if it is like other voucher schools, there a few ex-ed students there affecting the school's atmosphere and scores.

The second notable exception is the actual subject of Borsuk's story:
How about this for strong medicine to improve a school: Ask every teacher and administrator to turn in resignations. Tell them they can reapply for their jobs, but there's going to be higher expectations from now on. Hire back less than half of the staff. [. . .]

[School president Cindy] Marino said all but one of 35 administrators and teachers applied to stay on after being told it was going to be a new day at the school. Some withdrew as the hiring process proceeded. A few positions were eliminated and some staff members were told they weren't going to be offered new contracts.

In the end, fewer than half will return next year. Marino said some just didn't want to change in the way the school was changing or didn't think they needed to go as far with the students in pursuing success as the leaders want.
This is what perhaps makes the St. Joan's story an interesting experiment for Milwaukee to watch. What's happening at that school is exactly what the punditerati wish would happen across MPS--fire all those lousy, lazy old teacher who because they have tenure don't give a crap about the students any more. (How many such teachers there are, or where one to four thousand replacement teachers might come from is never fully explained.) While I don't question the truth of the idea that the quality of the teacher is the single most important factor in the quality of the classroom experience; research bears this out.

And indeed the national trend is, as national trends often do, carrying this to the extreme. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, colloquially known as the stimulus, contained money for schools. But much of that money is contingent on punitive measures levied against the staff at the lowest performing schools, including removing half or more of the classroom teachers. What's happening at St. Joan's will undoubtedly start becoming the norm in even public schools all across the nation. However, this is not. supported by the data; in fact, as I have written here before data suggest that "reconstituting schools by replacing administrators, faculty or staff" in places where it's been tried has created "no substantial evidence [. . .] to indicate that such measures raise achievement."

In other words, despite the teachers' being so important to the functioning of a high-quality classroom, changing the teacher alone is not a guarantee that an unsuccessful classroom will suddenly turn around. There are many reasons for this--the study linked above talks about, for example, the negative effects of upheaval, for example, which often depresses scores further in the years after such reconstitution. Then there's significant amount of stuff that doesn't change within those students' lives, or within the wider school community.

So this St. Joan Antida experiment will be an interesting one to watch, as it may well be a good indicator of what kind of success this kind of reform will have. Because make no mistake: This is coming to MPS, and to public schools all across the nation if Arne Duncan keeps getting his way. For those who've done the research, the outlook for such a sweeping effort is not particularly optimistic.

For me, the situation Borsuk describes at St. Joan really lays bare what I have been saying all along: When, in Milwaukee as in other urban situations, schools face budget crises and high poverty and difficult-to-teach students, they struggle even with the best of intentions and best of teachers, the job is damned hard. Putting different people into a damned hard job isn't going to make the job any easier.

Is everybody ok?

by folkbum

Clearly a lot of people were effected, some devastatingly so, by the weather last night. I almost got stranded by flash flooding where I am--I don't know how My Sweet Ride didn't stall out about a billion times--and I hope everyone else out there is safe and sound where you are.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rally for MPS teachers, funding tomorrow

by folkbum

For a variety of reasons, I can't be present for this rally, but I encourage anyone who can to be there and to voice your support to go. Bring shoes!
4:00 PM • Monday, June 21, 2010
Old Federal Building, 517 East Wisconsin Ave.

UPDATE: Here's one local TV report. The headline is "Teachers Rally," but it was really a community effort.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CRG doubles down on their (probably) baseless complaint

by folkbum

As I noted yesterday, Citizens for Responsible Government demonstrated a remarkable level of irresponsibility and an extreme level of laziness in filing a complaint against Chris "capper" Liebenthal for blogging on work time. (Chris works for Milwaukee County.) [UPDATED to add: This literally does seem to be tit-for-tat after a County employee was caught pimping Scott Walker on County time.] CRG's evidence at the time consisted entirely of four posts all made on either County furlough days, nine days so far this year when Chris was legally unable to do his job let alone blog concurrently, or vacation days that he had publicly announced.

Today CRG makes another post claiming further evidence of Chris's having blogged or commented on political blogs on County time. Sadly for them, they still include all those furlough days. They also include posts or comments made on January 18 (Martin Luther King Day) and May 31 (Memorial Day) and September 7 of last year (Labor Day) when County workers were also not working. CRG was even so thorough in looking for "evidence" that it trolled individual posts at Milwaukee County First looking for comments from Chris, and they cite specifically in their list this comment made on October 9: "And before you get your undies in a bundle, yes, today is a pre-approved vacation day, as was yesterday." So smart enough to look at the comments, but not smart enough to, you know, read them, since CRG thinks Chris made five different posts on County time during those vacation days on October 8 and 9.

So far, there's been no word from the DA's office about whether anything incriminating has been found on Chris's computer (and even if there were something, people smarter about the law than I feel that the DA is the wrong person to be handling this). But if what CRG can muster--a bunch of posts on furlough days and holidays--is representative of what "evidence" exists, our friend Chris is in no real danger.

Also: There's evidence in the Journal Communications server room!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Citizens for Responsible Government wants irresponsible waste of taxpayer funds

by folkbum--note updates below!

And see Thursday's developments!

Never let it be said that CRG is actually responsible. Today is a perfect example.

They have apparently filed some kind of complaint with the Milwaukee County DA's office about my friend Chris "capper" Liebenthal's blogging, claiming he has been blogging on Milwaukee County time (Chris works for the County).

So let's see what all CRG is not responsible for, shall we?

CRG is not responsible for doing a 20-second google search; if they had, they would have noticed that the four posts in their "evidence" (1 2 3 4) were all posted either on a County furlough day (April 15 UPDATE: and January 15) or a day (May 14) when Chris publicly announced that "today is a paid day off."

CRG is certainly not going to be responsible for whatever time the DA's office spends investigating the complain (I'm sure they'll charge for a lot more than the 20 seconds I took to google the facts up).

And CRG is also apparently not responsible for pushing for any kind of similar investigation into Darlene Wink, who not only was in fact on the internets politicking on County time, but has admitted as such (and that admission curiously corresponds to the disappearance of a pro-Scott Walker blog that had postings up the wazoo made during work hours).

So then what is Citizens for "Responsible" Government really responsible for? A huge waste of time, and perhaps libel or slander lawsuits against the squawkers and bloggers spreading easily-disproved untruths. Not any responsible governing, that's for sure.

Thursday morning updates: Chris has responded, understandably, without providing much actual information. But his allies have stepped up: The Brawler notes the irony of Chris's having been targeted for blogging on a furlough day--"Cap helps balance the county budget and all he gets is a DA probe!" Tom Foley correctly guesses Charlie Sykes's age. And Jason Haas has perhaps the most important reaction, noting that while Chris spends his day toiling away to help the neediest in Milwaukee County only to be rewarded with a DA investigation, Scott Walker regularly rewards his campaign cronies with plum County jobs.

And a further update: Cory Liebmann documents the irresponsibility of CRG's blind support for the very irresponsible Scott Walker.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bypassing BP gas? You're hurting small business.

by folkbum

I get the desire to stop putting money into BP's tank, so to speak. Problem is, the BP stations you're driving past are not actually owned by BP. NPR fills us up in:
The anger against BP has prompted some to picket in front of BP-branded gas stations. Jesse Jackson has called for a BP boycott. But BP sold off its retail gas business. Now, the people who own the 13,000 BP gas stations are generally independent franchisees, like the Camachos.

Betty Camacho says people associate her independent business with what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico. "I can see my volume is not the same," she says. "I can see that they are not coming." [. . .]

The Camachos find it ironic that they should pay the price for their affiliation with BP.

Betty Camacho says she's fought with the company, mostly over its rules.

She says BP typically charges several cents more per gallon than wholesale market rates. Also, BP requires the station to run all gas-related credit card payments through BP's processing system. She says that hamstrings her shop's cash flow because the money doesn't post to their account until seven days later. [. . .] And now the business faces a cash crunch. To demonstrate this, she produces her latest business account statement. She has a negative balance of $9,623.88.
BP is soaking its franchisees on one end, and boycotters are starving them at the other.

BP needs punishing, and I totally recognize both the right and the responsibility of the consumer to take on that task. But the immediate impact of things like a boycott is to punish 13,000 small business owners who didn't screw up in the Gulf. If anything, stop driving completely until they cap the well if you want to make a statement.

RIP, Touchdown Jesus

by folkbum

From the AP:
Police say a six-story-tall statue of Jesus Christ with his arms raised along a southwest Ohio highway has been struck by lightning in a thunderstorm and has burned to the ground.

The "King of Kings" statue had stood since 2004 at the evangelical Solid Rock Church along Interstate 75 in Monroe, just north of Cincinnati.
The Touchdown Jesus plays an important role in the opening lines of one of my better songs, as a geographical marker; I'll have to decide now to keep it or find some other reference.

For now, though, let us all just take a moment of silence to reflect on what Touchdown Jesus has meant to our lives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The first rule of satire ...

by folkbum

... is that it has to be funny. Unfunny satire just makes you sound mean or stupid or both.

Take, for example, Deb Jordahl (please!). Not content to merely butcher the truth, she has to try her hand at teh funny. In a recent, misbegotten attempt at satire, Jordahl, a Scott Walker devotee, tries to get a larf at Mark Neumann's expense. "Neumann Endorses Barrett," blares the headline. The rest of it is just exactly as funny as the headline.

The second rule of satire is that it must have a significant grain of truth. "A Modest Proposal" is not successful because the idea of eating Irish children is a hoot by itself, but rather because the ruling class's neglect of the Irish working class was so bad that being dinner would be a step up from kids' real life. Jordahl violates this rule, as well.

The premise of her post is that Neumann's crashing of the state Democratic convention last weekend was not, as his earlier crashing of the Republicans' hoe-down was, a sad publicity stunt staged by an insurgent on the outs with the power-brokers in his own party. No, Neumann was there to show just how identical he is to Tom Barrett, the presumed* Democratic nominee. Yes, because Neumann, the anti-choice, anti-union, anti-gay rights, anti-public schools, anti-working class, anti-environment, endorsed by something called the "liberty council," religious extremist whacko might reasonably be mistaken for the Democrat in the race.

Jordahl's supposed grain of truth falls in this made-up quote from Neumann:
“My companies have made a killing off of President Obama’s stimulus package," [she has Neumann saying]. "Between the eight thousand dollar homeowner tax credit and the tax credits for solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and wind energy systems, the taxpayers have put hundreds of thousands into my homes. Heck, the taxpayers even paid for radio ads to promote my company.”

Neumann said Tom Barrett is the only other candidate in the race who believes that government should pick the winners and losers when it comes to helping businesses succeed.
The Onion, it ain't.

But the illogic and the fallacy behind the piece is worse than its unfunniness. If you click on the link at "made a killing," it takes you to a Dan Bice story (no, not that one! or that one! or that one! or even that one!) about the success of the homebuyer tax credit and how it helped as many as 16 or 17 Wisconsin families buy a home last year from one particular company. Sure, that company is part-owned by Mark Neumann; but it is hardly reasonable to suggest that anyone in government "picked" Neumann's company to be a "winner," when a) any homebuilder or real-estate firm was equally eligible to take advantage of the tax credits that in fact were given to homebuyers, not homebuilders, and 2) the current government would have no incentive whatsoever to make a credible Republican candidate for governor any more of a "winner."

But I did laugh out loud, once I clicked through and read the link. First, at the notion that Walker supporters are explicitly trashing a successful small-businessman, supposedly the backbone of their capitalist utopia and friend to the teapartier everywhere. Second, because the Bice story contains such nuggets as " 'So he's OK with the part that makes him money so he can run for office,' said Walker adviser R.J. Johnson," long before another Johnson, Ron, marshalled his earned millions to run for Senate as a Republican.

In the end, Jordhal violates the rules of satire so badly that they are at the emergency room filling out a police report as we speak. Give it a rest, Deb.

* presumed, because his most formidable likely opponent recently re-iterated his not-runningness ... but you never know

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's a relief, in a way

by folkbum

I'd been psyching myself up that if I won the DPW convention straw poll for governor, I would get serious about a campaign. But I got pretty well trounced, so ... you won't have a Jay Bullock campaign to kick around any more.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Quote of the Day, Tea Party Edition

by folkbum

Kevin Drum:
[T]his fits perfectly into the tea party worldview because it's (a) simplistic and superficially appealing, and (b) stupid.
Does it matter what "this" is?

Fritunes: Election 2010 supplemental edition

by folkbum

People in South Carolina voted for this guy, Alvin Greene:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

But I think they may have been hoping it was this Al Green:


by folkbum

Is it vacation yet?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bay View's graduation in the news

by folkbum

I hate to do this kind of thing, because my rule as a blogger is that I don't, I just don't, write about the specifics of my job. This is in part to protect myself and in part to protect those I work with, but mostly to protect my students, who just don't need me putting their business out there for all of you to read.

But I am led to believe that the graduation ceremony of Bay View High School, where I teach, which I attended and helped with Monday night, is the big topic of discussion on the right-wing talk radio today, following a report on WTMJ-TV last night. It is also the subject of at least one rightie blogger's postings today, as well. WTMJ's report is here. If you can't stream video, the text of the story is there, too.

Let me say, first, that in past years I have attended and been on stage for a number of graduation ceremonies in the US Cellular Arena, in the Milwaukee Theater next door, and in other large, noisy venues. At none of those previous graduations has the behavior of the students or the joyous outbursts of the crowd been an issue, even though those students and those crowds were just like the ones at issue Monday night. That's because at all of those previous graduations, the school administrators have both anticipated the behavior and welcomed the celebratory and participatory inclinations of those in attendance. Indeed, it has been my personal experience that when the speakers on stage set a tone and pace that's consistent and attuned to the crowd, things run smoothly and everyone goes home happy. Of all the profoundly moving experiences I have had as a teacher, among the best are moments when I have read at graduation the name of a student who everyone thought was going to be a dropout or dead or both, watched him dance proudly toward the principal and his diploma, and heard the roar of an appreciative and joyful crowd. Sure, it can be hard to read the next name over the din, but you do it anyway, and the crowd catches on, and figures out that it's time to celebrate another young person's achievement.

That's what a graduation ceremony is all about.

This year's ceremony, unlike even Bay View ceremonies in previous years under previous administrations, was run in way that punished, literally in some cases, that kind of joyful participation, what is standard at graduation ceremonies across MPS and indeed in schools across the country. (Search YouTube sometime for contemporary graduation ceremony videos, and you'll see kids of all colors, classes, and creeds dancing their way across the stage, and you'll hear audiences of all sizes and shapes cheering along and occasionally even drowning out the speaker at the mic.) The whole problem was that the ceremony became a fight between fussy and unrealistic expectations of decorum and the students' joy. And the crowd was clearly on the side of joy: The student toward the end of the night who not only wanted to do a little dance but refused to go back to the side of the stage and start her walk over--she became the hero. She earned a standing ovation that was not afforded to the principal or even the valedictorian.

What's fascinating is that WTMJ has posted the full, unedited interview with their single "witness" to the "out of control" graduation ceremony. There is no transcript of that interview, but you can watch the video here. It's five minutes, but if you watched or read the first story I linked above, I beg of you, please go watch these five minutes. You'll find that the woman interviewed tells essentially the same story I just have--that the night would have gone smoothly if the administration had "picked its battles." The woman, a veteran attendee of many MPS graduations, certainly knows exactly what I have written above, that when students and parents are given space to express themselves, rather than being scolded and literally pushed away from their joy, things go great. The woman even clearly says that Bay View shouldn't be judged by this night. None of that made the piece that ran on WTMJ last night, and I anticipate that none of that made it into the talk-radio bloviations or the conservative blog blather.

(I do want to note that her complaint that the police had been called and barricades had been set up is a distraction and unrelated. The police always block Kilbourn Ave. off after graduation ceremonies at the US Cellular Arena or Milwaukee Theater, just because it cuts down dramatically on the number of grandmothers who get hit by cars.)

To be clear: The woman says she didn't see anything being thrown at the principal, and neither did I, though immediately after the ceremony (which was cut short only in that students didn't wait for the recessional music and simply left the floor of their own accord) I was in the corridors of the arena helping to move students along to the out of doors and I suppose I may have missed something. No parents left the stands to rush the floor. No students acted aggressively, with the exception of the one noted above who pushed past the principal--and even then, neither I nor any of the staff or students whom I have subsequently talked to about this thought she was targeting the principal or likely to do her any real harm.

The crowd's expressions of disapproval with the way the ceremony was run, something that, believe me, I have never seen before at an MPS graduation, cannot be condoned. But I understand completely why they reacted that way. Obviously, the Bay View staff has some things to work out among itself about how graduations should be run in the future. But please, understand this if nothing else, especially those of you who feel this just confirms your own sick belief that black students and their families are "thugs" who don't know how to act: The failure of this week's ceremony lies entirely with the poor planning and unrealistic expectations of the administrators who badly mishandled what, in every other school in every other year, is the most joyful and exciting moment of a graduate's life.

J. Beauregard disregards facts in Kagan-military op-ed

by folkbum

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, taking space oft reserved for Patrick McIlheran--and borrowing heavily from McIlheran's playbook of false implications and innuendo--trots out the shouldn't-it-be-debunked-enough-by-now story of Elena Kagan and the military recruiters.

After Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court, conservative opponents seized upon and distorted a story from her tenure as Dean of the Harvard Law School as a cudgel against her. Problem is that, undistorted, the story not only doesn't support the conservative line--"Kagan kicked military recruiters off campus!"--but actively undermines their argument that she might be anti-military.

Robert C. Clark, Kagan's immediate predecessor at Harvard Law, took to the pages of the conservative Wall Street Journal earlier this spring to lay the story to rest. There was apparently one semester under Kagan's tenure when the military recruited in a different location than the school's Office of Career Services, but at no time were they barred from campus or prohibited from recruiting Harvard Law graduates. Had Sessions done even cursory research, he would have known better than to accuse Kagan of "actively obstructing the military."

But that's not all!

NPR's Nina Totenberg went beyond Clark's clear defense, and actually interviewed people involved in the controversy during that one semester. Totenberg recounts how, upon deciding that the military wouldn't be able to use the OCS, Kagan actively sought other ways for the military to recruit:
But while her public position as dean was to revert to the anti-discrimination policy, Kagan reached out privately to the Student Veterans Association, asking the members, some of them Iraq War veterans, to once again act as a proxy for the placement office. [. . .]

If the student vets had turned her down flat, Kagan had a backup plan for a faculty member to act as the facilitator.

[Current Harvard Law Dean Ellen] Cosgrove says Kagan's reasons were twofold. First, she "wanted to figure out a way to support the military by sending them some of the best and brightest young lawyers that would be graduating from Harvard," and secondly, she wanted to "support students who had an interest in a military career."

Kagan apparently succeeded because the numbers of students who signed up with the military remained constant while she was dean. In fact, they even occasionally increased.
No one ever said that Jeff Sessions was the cream of the crop on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Indeed, you see a lot of the opposite.) But this is beyond even his level of pale. It's pretty clear that Sessions has no use for facts or reality.

What's sadder is that the Journal Sentinel ran the op-ed anyway.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Neumann flap helps narrow potential window for conservatives' break with reality

by folkbum

We all know that conservatives have, at some point in the recent past, abandoned the present reality choosing to substitute a fantasy world of their own making instead. Pinpointing the moment when that split in the space-time continuum occurred, exactly, has always been a bit of challenge, since it has seemed more evolutionary* than instantaneous.

We know that the shift happened sometime before October 17, 2004, when a Bush administration aide offered up the observation that "we create our own reality."

Deb Jordahl helpfully reminds us of a statement from Mark Neumann, current gubernatorial candidate, way back in 1996 when he was just a baby-faced first-term Congressman:
“Isn’t it true,” an elderly man asks, “that it was when Reagan was President and Dole was in the Senate that the debt went up?”


“This debate is exactly what’s leading our country down the path to destruction!” Neumann yells. “Reagan and Dole did it, and the Democrats did it! People on both sides of the aisle are willing to do anything to get power in this country, even if means the destruction of our country!”

His questioner is stunned into silence. Neumann’s face is tomato red. “I’ve got to get my blood pressure down!” he shouts. He gathers himself. “I’m sorry I answered so strong,” he tells the Kiwanians a moment later. “This Republican-Democrat thing—it’s just so destructive. If the Democrats want to take credit, I don’t care. They raised taxes in 1993 and it brought in more revenue and so the deficit is going down.”
Back then, the Kiwanis-club audience was skeptical of Neumann's statement of obvious fact, but at least willing to listen and, faced with charts and graphs and "a math teacher with actual power," believe the truth. The deficit did in fact balloon under Reagan (despite his tax increases) and did in fact disappear under Clinton.

Though Jordahl does not come right out and say that she disagrees with Neumann on the facts (as opposed to, what are the kids calling it these days? the "optics"?) of what Neumann said, that's clearly her implication. Today, of course, the suggestion that Reagan boosted both the debt and taxes is heresy. The suggestion that the Clinton budget bill, passed without a single Republican vote in 1993, set the federal government on a path to solvency, is heresy. But they are facts. And those who refuse to see them, such as Walkerite Jordahl and the rest of the tea-party crew, are sadly in ascendance.

Anyway, this helps narrow the window to sometime after 1996. Anyone want to try to peg it more specifically?

* Undoubtedly the conservatives who stop by here to comment will reject the evolution argument and posit instead that they were created disconnected from realty.

What's the difference between Helen Thomas and Glenn Beck?

by folkbum

Helen Thomas is (seen as) liberal, so promotion of anti-semitism has consequences; Glenn Beck is (round-the-bend) conservative, so promotion of anti-semitism requires no consequence. (See also: Buchanan, Pat.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Scott Walker plans coup

by folkbum

I assume the Constitutional "literalists" are rethinking their support.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Weekend open thread, because I am out of brain

by folkbum

Anyone call dibs on Tipper Gore yet?

Friday, June 04, 2010

More of the WUWM series on MPS

by folkbum

This is the last day for WUWM's series on Milwaukee Public Schools. Later today, I'll be featured in a segment on WUWM's "Lake Effect." It airs at 10 AM on 89.7 FM or streaming online here. After about 11 AM today, the episode and my segment will be archived here.

If you missed yesterday's live "Lake Effect," you can listen here.


by folkbum

Another practitioner of the two-capo method.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Musings Upon Network Neutrality, as Prompted by a Disappointing but not Wholly Unexpected Announcement from American Telephone and Telegraph

Wherein Your Faithful Correspondent Tries to Reconcile the Capitalist and Socialist Parts of His Economically Confused Mind

by folkbum

Net neutrality is in the news again, with the Federal Communications Commission considering making that the policy in spite of some court rulings and the intentions of a corporate-funded Congress. Net neutrality is, broadly, the notion that the whole of the internet should be a level playing field, with internet service providers considered to be "common carriers" who cannot discriminate or differentiate in the way they provide services.

There are two things related. One of them is similar to what ATT is about to do with the data plans for its smart phones like the iPhone--something that's weighing on me, personally, as I am seriously considering finally upgrading to an iPhone this summer once the 4Gs are out. The short answer is that ATT is going to be charging more of customers who use more data:
One of the new AT&T plans will cost $25 per month and offer 2 gigabytes of data per month, which AT&T says will be enough for 98 percent of its smart phone customers. Additional gigabytes will cost $10 each.

A second plan will cost $15 per month for 200 megabytes of data, which AT&T says is enough for 65 percent of its smart phone customers. If they go over, they'll pay another $15 for 200 megabytes.
Except for the cheater-y math in plan B ($30 for 400 MB is a ripoff if plan A gets you 2 GB for $25), this is an idea that is reasonable, and one I have some sympathy for when expanded beyond the idea of mere smart phones to broadband or internet access in general. Though the calls to dump your iPhone and boycott ATT have already started, I think that's ridiculous. Like, say, electricity or even land-line phones, if you use more, you can pay more, and, because I am, in fact, a capitalist, I am not so much in favor of the FCC over-regulating broadband and internet service providers in this way.

I do believe that everyone does deserve access, and those whose access is more difficult to achieve, like people in rural areas, should not be punished by geography when it comes to this resource (rural folk pay the same kWh rates as the rest of us). I believe the FCC has a role there to make sure that everyone has access to email, news, and basic research and learning opportunities online without sticking it to the user or throttling users without warning or the opportunity to appeal. And I don't think ISPs have much reason to privilege particular users over others in terms of whose data goes out first and faster (and I don't think there's much of a technical reason to do so except to bleed the gullible who may want to pay a premium for priority). But if an ISP wants to identify, say, people who bittorrent a lot of data and hit them with higher fees, I can get behind that.

With one caveat: Right now ISPs generally do not do a good job, or any job at all, of telling users how much data they are using. There are some--the satellite providers, for example--who do, but I, for one, have absolutely no clue how much data we use at our house. And with my wife and I both active internet users, with Netflix streaming to the Wii (which is awesome, by the way), I'm sure that we're well above average. But if my ISP offered me a menu tomorrow of choices for a data plan that I had to choose, I wouldn't know which to pick.

But there's a second thing going on with net neutrality that is much more important, and it has less to do with the interactions between ISPs and users and more to do with the interactions between ISPs and content providers. And it is here that, because I am, in fact, a socialist, the FCC needs to strictly regulate this aspect of the internet. Here's where things get hairy: When an ISP decides that it wants to make a pact with a content provider to privilege that provider's content. It wouldn't be hard for an ISP to contract with Google to serve up Google's products and pages and search results faster than Hotmail or Bing or Wordpress or Yahoo or whatever. Or to contract with Blockbuster over Netflix, or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over local bloggers and independent publishers.

This kind of non-neutrality, while it might be good for the ISPs and the companies they trade money with, is bad for users and, I think, bad for the development of a strong and vibrant internet. One reason we have such a strong net today is that ISP haven't been making those deals with content providers. New and interesting and exciting technologies have developed because scrappy and creative internet entrepreneurs have been able to serve an unlimited number of customers without fear of being throttled by the people who own the pipes. That may be slightly less true today as content providers find their revenue streams shrinking and they consolidate and slow down innovation. Yet it shouldn't be the ISPs decision as to who lives and who dies as content providers on the web--it should be the users, whose access needs to be unrestricted to any and all corners of the web.

MoveOn,org, among other places, is running a petition drive to maintain that last kind of neutrality, if you want to take some action.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

WUWM's series on Milwaukee Public Schools

by folkbum

I'll be on one segment of "Lake Effect" this Friday. But WUWM has been running a series on the Milwaukee Public Schools. There's been a lot of good information and commentary so far. Here's a few specific highlights:
• MPS project preview
• The impact of poverty and violence on students' educations
• The special challenges of special education
• MPS vs. peer districts
• Four days of "Lake Effect" so far: Friday, Monday, Tuesday, today

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

What's the difference between Richard Blumenthal and Mark Kirk?

by folkbum

Mark Kirk is a Republican, so no accountability rules apply.

Nice knowing you

by folkbum

I figure that by this time tomorrow, NATO will be at war with Israel, North and South Korea will be at it again, and we'll all be dead within a few weeks from the fallout.