Monday, December 28, 2009

Maybe polytheism is a better idea?

A former student sent this round to me. Interesting stuff.

October 23, 2007
Mary Lefkowitz,

[Mary Lefkowitz is professor emerita at Wellesley College and the author of "Greek Gods, Human Lives" and the forthcoming "History Lesson."]

Gods, or God?

Prominent secular and atheist commentators have argued lately that religion "poisons" human life and causes endless violence and suffering. But the poison isn't religion; it's monotheism. The polytheistic Greeks didn't advocate killing those who worshiped different gods, and they did not pretend that their religion provided the right answers. Their religion made the ancient Greeks aware of their ignorance and weakness, letting them recognize multiple points of view.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

A card from a friend: Greetings from Krampus

Ho ho ho...

Two Christmas presents and a lump of coal.

Hi everyone,

Just as Christmas landed, St. Nick dropped off a couple of Christmas presents for our local library and the citizens group [nice] which, together this year, stood up to some Scrooge's who wanted the library to censor its catalog [naughty].

Do you remember when Santa used to call out naughty children for their behaviour, you know, before our advertising culture started eliminating any unpleasant consequences for being mean?

Me, too.

And so, Saturday's column.

Naughty or nice?
Library issue brings St. Nick & Krampus to town

“He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice ....”

In America, most people get Christmas presents even when they’ve been naughty but, back in the Old County, across Europe, St. Nick is accompanied by a more sinister companion. St. Nick makes sure good kids get what they deserve – candy and toys – while his companion makes sure the naughty kids get what they deserve, too. Depending on the country, naughty kids can get lumps of coal or even be whipped.

That’s Old School.

This year St. Nick brought some great presents to the nice kids in town: specifically, the nice kids at the West Bend Community Memorial Library and in the West Bend activists for Free Speech who were awarded two national accolades for – well, for doing the right thing. They deserved ’em, too. It’s hard to do the right thing when it isn’t popular with some of the other kids.

The library was awarded the 2009 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award, given by the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the West Bend Activists for Free Speech, the association of citizens who banded together to help the library stand up to the anti-gay pro-censorship lobby, were selected by the Wisconsin ACLU to receive this year’s William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarian of the Year Award.

William Gorham Rice, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, was one of the principal founders of the ACLU. It’s not surprising that a UWMadison law professor would help establish the ACLU, but Professor Rice was a man whose understanding of justice was matched by an equally great character. Before his law school days, William Rice was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his service as an ambulance driver during World War I. The West Bend Community Memorial Library and our neighbors in West Bend Activists for Free Speech were both on the battlefield this past year, making sure to keep our civil liberties alive and well – so this award, like all presents from St. Nick, fits perfectly.

So much for that candy. Now, what about the coal?

It turns out there are all sorts of options. In France, for instance, St. Nick’s companion is called Pere Fouettard (usually translated as Whipping Father, although in eastern France he’s their idea of the bogeyman). He brings a buffet of special treats for naughty children, ranging from coal all the way up to flogging. Seriously, flogging. One early version of the Pere Fouettard story explains that he and his wife were inn keepers who murdered three boys while robbing them. St. Nick discovered the crime, resurrected the boys, and then forced Le Pere into service to atone for his crime. Next door in the Netherlands, the Dutch have Black Peter and in Germany there’s Knecht Ruprecht, whose main function is to scare naughty kids until they start behaving themselves. We could probably use him in Washington. The variations on this theme become more grisly as we move closer to the Alps. Bavaria has Hans Muff, Pelzebock, Drapp, and Buzeberg. In Switzerland he's called Schmutzli.

The scariest of all is Krampus, from Austria, who is sort of a half-goat, half-devil character. I’ll bet he keeps bad kids ducking for cover. I know we like everything to be sugary and happy but I’m one of those people who liked the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales (you know, the unexpurgated version in which Cinderella has her wicked sisters dragged behind horses afterward). They have a kind of psychological balance missing from the diabetic coma of our current, Disneyized, high-fructose corn syrup version of American reality.

Anyway, in the spirit of preserving the wisdom of the past, let’s put Krampus to work. If the nice kids won national awards for doing the right thing, even when it wasn't popular, then who should get the coal? Or the whipping?

This year, Krampus needs to visit the naughty folks who attempted to sneak past the U.S. Constitution, and decades of Supreme Court rulings, and force a narrow and partisan morality on the rest of their neighbors by asking a governmental agency (the public library) to censor material – all behind the cynical rhetoric of protecting children. This year, they get coal in their stockings. Let’s hope that next year St. Nick can bring them treats instead.

Krampus will be watching them.

In the meantime, those on the nice list can take joy in these gifts of freedom and pride in the neighbors who kept those gifts alive for the rest of us.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Information really is beautiful: Climate Change Deniers vs The Consensus

This argument is so much less exciting when there's actual information on the table.

Climate Change Deniers vs The Consensus

And just one for Al, "sigh."

A mental health break: some perspective.

The Known Universe by AMNH


10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals

Just a satisfying end of the year list of possible resolutions:

10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who've Been Screwing You.


Worker productivity way up. Wages, no. Who wins?

From Thom Hartmann
Professor Thomas Kochan at MIT's Sloan School of Management is reporting that economic productivity of the American worker rose by 8.1 percent in the third quarter, but pay did not. Instead, at this holiday time - and pretty much continuously since Reagan declared war on working people in 1981- wages are stagnating and workers are stressed out with larger workloads while fearing for their jobs.
Professor Kochan's latest opinion piece includes:
Wage data are equally unacceptable. Average worker incomes remained flat or fell during the recession. Nor did they grow over the seven years of the past economic recovery. Indeed, workers have been getting a declining share of the productivity they helped create for the past three decades. Because consumption accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy, a wage-less recovery is a weak and unsustainable recovery.

Why pay workers more when it cuts into CEO compensation?


Tea Partiers initiate spiritual warfare, but worry about friendly fire.

Oh golly, this is where we live.

Tea Partier Calls C-SPAN, Worried His Prayers For Byrd To Die Got Inhofe Instead

"'Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn's instructions and prayed real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn't show up at the vote the other night,' the caller said."

"How hard did you pray because I see one of our members was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our members died? How hard did you pray senator? Did you pray hard enough?" he continued, his voice breaking.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wisconsin supreme court dances with them wot bought 'em.

WMC hegemony now established on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Nice nice, very nice.

A Warped View From The Bench

But I'm even more concerned by the original prompt: a guest editorial by Justice Roggensack that included the following:
Second, when a citizen votes in a judicial election, he or she exercises a right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Protecting the First Amendment rights of all voters to cast votes that could not later be cancelled by the acts of others was a primary concern of the court in the rule that was enacted.
I was not under the impression that our right to vote was guaranteed by the First Amendment, which reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
It is possible that this particular First Amendment is not in the Constitution currently under revision by WMC.


When the government asks for increased efficiency?


In Risky Move, GM to Run Plants Around Clock

Even Toyota thinks this is a bad idea. Is it possible the Obama administration auto task force hasn't read Demming?

On the other hand, wouldn't it be a spectacular irony if a supposedly liberal government asked for and got increased efficiency from business?


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cornel West's new memoire.

I always try to listen, carefully, to Professor West and I wish I could be less sympathetic toward his critique of Mr. Obama.

West: I was ready because I draw a radical distinction between the symbolic and the substantial. As a critical supporter of Barack Obama, engaged in over 50 events for him from Iowa to Ohio, I knew that at a symbolic level something could happen that was unprecedented. And it did happen. At that symbolic level, I can understand the tears, I can understand the jubilation, I can understand the euphoria. But I always knew there was a sense in which he, now heading the American empire, was tied to the shadow government, tied to CIA, FBI, tied to the establishment waiting to embrace him. It was clear when he chose his economic team, when he chose his foreign policy team, he was choosing, of course, the recycled neo-liberals and recycled neo-Clintonites that substantially you're going to end up with these technocratic policies that consider poor people and working people as afterthoughts. Beginning with bankers, beginning with elites.

But I'm still going to give him his full year... which ends on January 20th.

Some legalize-medical-marijuana follow-ups:

Two points of interest:

Seattle's former chief of police thinks we should go further with legalization and, it turns out that, depending on your economic class, different rules apply when it comes to medical marijuana use.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chumming for Payday Lenders. Sharks found in West Bend.

Hi everyone,

We now have 8 payday lenders in our little town of 30,000.

Loan sharking is illegal, but loan shark lobbyists, apparently, aren't as effective at manipulating legislation.

Saturday's column

Sharks found in city

If you loan money, at usurious rates, to people down on their luck who can’t pay it back, which forces them to take out yet another loan to cover the first one and, thus, leap headfirst into a death spiral of debt – and you do it illegally – you’re called a loan shark. If you do it legally, you’re called a payday lender. It’s time to see payday lenders for what they really are.

The Payday Loan industry says they’re only performing a service for people down on their luck. The rules governing these transactions are clearly posted and the industry claims that everyone who takes out one of these loans understands exactly much interest they’re paying.

It works like this: let’s say you get strapped for cash a week before payday. You can walk into a local storefront and get a loan for the amount of your next paycheck. Sounds handy, right? Sure. Let’s say your paycheck is for $350. You go down to the payday lender with a postdated personal check. You fill in some paperwork, pay a fee of (on average) $60, and walk out with $290. So far so good. $60 is a big chunk of your paycheck, but of you need the cash you’re willing to take the hit.

In a perfect world you'd get your real paycheck a week later and pay off the loan.

The industry makes it’s big money by betting on imperfection.

What typically happens next? People run out of money before their next check comes in so they need to take out another payday loan -- in which case they’re now trapped paying $60 every couple of weeks to float what is, in effect, a perpetual advance. Worse yet, let’s say they need some of their real paycheck for rent or food. The check given to the payday lender now bounces: bad for the borrower but great for the lender. The lender now charges you a late fee. To avoid defaulting, the borrower takes out another loan and pays another $60 fee. And so on.

The Center for Responsible Lending calls this “the debt trap” of payday lending.

Payday lenders say publicly that they provide short term loans to help people get over short term financial difficulties, but the unspoken reality is that 90 percent of their profit comes from lenders trapped in long term debt – and at rates that would make real loan sharks blush.

But why on earth would anyone get into this situation? The easy explanation would be something out of 1950’s detective movie: gambling or drugs. The truth is that most payday borrowers are usually folks at the bottom of the income ladder: the working poor and those on social security-- people living close to the edge who are desperate enough to try anything. According to Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions, that desperation usually ends up costing borrowers, on average, an annual percentage rate of 542.2%.

Once there’s blood in the water, more sharks always start circling. In 1995, there were two payday lenders in Wisconsin. By August 2009, there were over 500 -- 64% of which, by the way, are owned by out of state interests. West Bend, population 30,000, now has eight.

Payday lending is being opposed across the country by groups including Wisconsinites for Responsible Lending, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Center for Responsible Lending. Closer to home Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) has a bill to limit interest rates to 36 percent. He’s even drawn support from across the political spectrum, from Lena Taylor to our own Glenn Grothman. But it’s an up hill battle: the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign projects that the payday loan industry is spending as much as $500,000 on over two dozen lobbyists to stop this bill. The WDC reports that the payday loan industry gave a record $140,200 to the governor and to legislative candidates in 2008.

Greed is an equal opportunity employer: six of the top seven campaign contribution recipients were Democrats. I guess we’ll find out how many votes payday loan money can buy.

John C. Bersia in his 2000 Pulitzer Prize winning editorial, coined the phrase “legal loan sharks” to describe payday lenders. Calling payday lenders “legal loan sharks” is an obvious comparison, but it does a disservice to real loan sharks. Real loan sharks only charge, on average, 150%. More importantly, real loan sharks are often willing to negotiate about repayment. Not so with the legal variety.

Eleven states have already begun to reel in these predators. Its’ time for Wisconsin to join them.


ps. This is a typo-free version of the column that appeared in the paper. Grading finals has a price.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Fuzzy" Climate math is only fuzzy when you don't do the math.

We've been having an interesting conversation around the university lately regarding the sophistication of economic and politics motivated distortions on issues like climate change and creationism.

One of the best bits of industry anti-green in the last few years ("these aren't the droids you're looking for.... don't pay any attention to environmental deterioration") was a piece George Will even swallowed: the claim that a Hummer is greener than a Toyota Prius.

It turns out there was nothing remotely fuzzy about the math here since the advertisers who put out the "report" didn't actually do any math.

The Pacific Institute did however.

And so on.


West Bend Community Memorial Library racks up more awards.

Fighting for the freedoms of West Bend citizens has generated yet another award for the West Bend Library.

Thanks to Retiring Guy for picking up the story:

Congratulations to the West Bend Community Memorial Library


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mental health break: Sumerians Look On In Confusion As Christian God Creates World

As always, The Onion scoops the competition.

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As Christian God Creates World

"I do not understand," reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. "A booming voice is saying, 'Let there be light,' but there is already light. It is saying, 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' but I am already standing on grass."

"Everything is here already," the pictograph continues. "We do not need more stars."


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Meet the Billionaire Brothers Funding the Right-Wing War on Obama

When the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity are all bankrolled by the same guys, what looks like grassroots turns out to be hardwood floors with servants to keep them properly polished.

Meet the Billionaire Brothers Funding the Right-Wing War on Obama
The Cato Institute -- founded by Charles -- as well as other Koch-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, produced a blizzard of reports distorting the stimulus and calling for a return to Bush-style tax cuts to combat the recession. As their fronts were battling the stimulus, David's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) spent the opening months of the Obama presidency placing calls and helping to organize the very first "tea party" protests. AFP, founded in 1984 by David and managed day to day by the astroturf lobbyist Tim Phillips, has spent much of the year mobilizing "tea party" opposition to health reform, clean energy legislation, and financial regulations.

Glenn Grothman: still wrong for denying real sex education.

When fear replaces clear headedness, you get this: religious groups that don't believe in evolution attempting to foist a half-baked health policy on the rest of us.

Message from Sen. Grothman concerning SEX ED bill
It is vital for all sincere Christians to call their State Senators at this time and tell them to vote against Senate Bill 324/Assembly Bill 458. It would also be a good idea to call your State Representative and find out how they voted. If they voted for AB 458, ask them to publicly renounce their vote.

Glenn has been politically correct [for his species] and scientifically wrong on this topic for years now [check here, here, here, and here]. What we can be sure of, should this bit of revanchist puritanism pass is, ironically, an increase in unwanted teenage pregnancies and, thus, an increase in the number of abortions.

We can also rely on an increase in the rates of sexual transmitted diseases among young people who, unable to practice sex responsibly, will resort to the kind of irresponsible sexual activity that characterizes anyone in the throes of the dangerous, but traditional, hormone rush of adolescence.

I don't know what kind of Christian wants to increase the misery of people, but apparently those are the people to whom Glenn is addressing his advertising here.

And I wish he'd quit it.

As I said nearly a year ago: For more info on our, terrifying, third-world levels of teenage pregnancy, follow the link to the Guttmacher Institute.


How much cow manure is enough?

Hi everyone,

Wisconsin has struggled to protect it's small family farms from the kind of industrial dairy and farming operations that would (will) put them out of business, but when people show up with $60 million, zoning always seems to bend -- in this case, in the direction of damaging the environment both above and below the ground.

Saturday's column.

How much cow manure is enough?

Bigger isn’t always better.

You may have caught wind of the expansion under way at the Rosendale Dairy up in Fond du Lac county. The winds of change are blowing, and they smell terrible. Rosendale is expanding its dairy operations to 8,000 cows, an expansion that makes Rosendale the largest concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the state.

The bad smell starts with a misrepresentation. When you hear the word dairy, don’t you think of small farms with lush fields of alfalfa and tidy milking stalls where each farmer knows each cow? Me, too. Don’t be misled: Rosendale Dairy isn’t a farm, it’s a $60 million factory. Here’s the real poop.

Any time a farm goes over 700 cows, it has to get a permit and meet a set of state Department of Natural Resources guidelines for manure management. If standing downwind from 700 cows sounds rough, imagine 8,000. That many cows produce about 92 million gallons of manure every year. This works out to 12,298,611 cubic feet, enough manure to cover a typical football field to a depth of 213.5 feet. Imagine Lambeau Field filled with cow manure to the height of a 20-story building. More simply, according to the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union, Rosendale will produce as much raw sewage as the city of Green Bay – except cow manure doesn’t go through a processing plant before being discharged into the environment. The CAFO plans to to spread it over 5,631 acres of local cropland; that’s 16,338 gallons per acre per year. The smell isn’t the only impending nightmare for people in that part of the state. The potential run-off pollution and groundwater contamination are enough to make you give up cheese curds.

There are two tricks to spreading manure without contaminating the ground water. The first, of course, is to spread it on ground that isn't leaky -- that won't let the poop into the ground water.

Strike one!

What kind of ground is underneath this 16,338 gallons of manure per acre per year? The report says “thin sediments overlying dolomite.” Translated into technical English this means: Doh!. Dolomite is typically so full of cracks that it might as well have pipes running directly into the groundwater. The scientifically sedate language of the report states: “Groundwater flow in the dolomite is via fractures and bedding planes with very little attenuation of contaminants.” “Very little attenuation” means the poop washes directly into the aquifer without much filtration. Next stop? Your faucet.

The second trick is proper monitoring – you need to keep track of whether dumping this much manure is contaminating the groundwater so you can stop before too many people are affected – and here the regulations are toothless.

Strike two!

The state permit requires only self-monitoring. Rosendale Dairy, Inc. is simply asked to “report periods of non-compliance.” In fact, no groundwater monitoring is planned at the site at all and, even though the report says the site falls within state guidelines, the DNR recommends people in the vicinity have their wells periodically inspected. There's a comfort.

In a final irony, one that only state bureaucracies mixed with corporate lobbyists could produce, Rosendale will have to provide portable toilets for their human employees -- since the county does not issue permits for either holding tanks or mound systems on sites like this one. Ninety-two million gallons of cow manure pumped out over a geology likely to contaminate the ground water? No problem. Sewage from the 70 humans slated to work at this factory? "You'll need to bring in port-a-pottys. We wouldn't want to pollute anything."

More seriously, despite DNR optimism, people have good reason to be nervous. CAFO water quality management has some lousy precedents in other parts of the United States and, even in other parts of Wisconsin. In New Mexico, their Environment Department reports that fully two-thirds of its 150 dairies are contaminating local groundwater as a result of leaky containment ponds or because they’re spreading the manure too heavily on local fields. In Morrison (south of Green Bay in Brown County), over 100 wells were polluted within a few months of the first CAFOs opening there. Meanwhile, back in Fond du Lac County, Rosendale has already been caught spreading manure too close to established wells, in violation of their permit.

Something smells in Fond du Lac County. It’s the smell of Wisconsin’s family farmers drowning in... -- in industrial agriculture.

Strike three?

You make the call.

* * *

A note of passage:

Alderman Terry Vrana announced he’d be leaving office this week. Mr. Vrana was my alderman and, even though I found myself at the other end of the political spectrum on nearly every issue, I remained – despite everything else – indebted to Mr. Vrana on two counts: his military service in Vietnam and his stinginess with the taxpayers’ money. For this we owe Mr. Vrana an abiding respect and our thanks for his service to this community.

One final and compelling detail is that CAFOs pay about $250 for their waste management permits, but that the state has already spent over $100,000 on the process -- another example of working taxpayers subsidizing investment bankers.

For more fascinating reading, check out the environmental impact study.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Global warming still on.

From our friends at Grassroots Northshore

Conservatives are crowing that they have struck gold, claiming that the emails prove global warming is a hoax. You might have heard this from your right leaning friends, coworkers and relatives, who have probably sent you emails of their own.

1) The crisis is more undeniable than ever.

2) The hacked emails offer no proof that the research is a hoax.

3) Even a conservative writer finds no evidence that there was a conspiracy to climate hide data.

4) The Union of Concerned Scientists lets loose on a broadside against the climate changes deniers over the stolen emails.

5) And sorry right wing, big business is jumping on the sustainability bandwagon.

I know. We keep overlooking the benefits of global warming, like.... fire ants in Wisconsin. Oh, and aligators.


Tea Party Patriot Wants Mandatory Christmas Carols In Public Schools

Of course.

Merry Hyatt, Tea Party Patriot, Wants Mandatory Christmas Carols In Public Schools


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Time for Real Republicans to return their party to coffee drinking?

I've been hoping that some old school conservatives would take their party back from the tea-party fringe, but maybe it's too late.

Next up, neo-con political correctness and a new Scarlet Letter?

Has the GOP Collapse Begun? Hypothetical "Tea Party" Outpolls Republicans

Time for Real Republicans to return their party to coffee drinking?

I've been hoping that some old school conservatives would take their party back from the tea-party fringe, but maybe it's too late.

Next up, neo-con political correctness and a new Scarlet Letter?

Has the GOP Collapse Begun? Hypothetical "Tea Party" Outpolls Republicans

Monday, December 07, 2009

And something fun for our local Eagle Forum.

Hi everyone,

I know the Eagle Forum believes that sexual preference is a choice so, for them, the universe provide this: Gay No More?

The delusion of Free Markets.

Something for our local anti-tax cabal.

How Free-Market Delusions Destroyed the Economy

A clear new look at the free-market fantasy.

Mr. Sensenbrenner traveling in Europe on lobbyist dime.

From: Rules for Congress Curb but Don’t End Junkets -

Nice to know Mr. Sensenbrenner doesn't have to pay to travel in Europe anymore...

Some morsels:
Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, toured a prince’s vineyard and castle in Liechtenstein and spent an afternoon at a ski resort in the Alps — all at the expense of a group of European companies.
While lobbyists are not supposed to pay for a lawmaker’s travel, for example, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s $14,708 trip to Liechtenstein and Germany in 2009 was organized by a nonprofit group whose president is a lobbyist. It was underwritten by European companies that, in many cases, lobby in the United States.
When Mr. Sensenbrenner and Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, traveled to Liechtenstein in February to learn about its banking system, they attended business meetings. But they and their wives also visited the Malbun ski resort, stayed at a first-class hotel and toured the wine cellar at the prince of Liechtenstein’s historic vineyard, according to their itinerary.

The cost of the trip — $14,708 for Mr. Sensenbrenner and his wife alone — was picked up by a nonprofit group called the International Management and Development Institute. Just since 2005, International Management has paid for 34 trips to Europe for lawmakers and staff members, totaling more than $400,000, including five for Mr. Sensenbrenner to Germany, Liechtenstein, Norway and France.
“Many organizations that are seeking to educate Congressional leaders on a range of topics receive money from a variety of sources to better enable them to do so, without any cost to taxpayers,” Wendy Riemann, a spokeswoman for Mr. Sensenbrenner, said in a written statement.

Ain't that nice. Some of us had to pay for our own education.

Good thing we can all be sure that the $14,708 won't have any effect on the vote of someone as wealthy as Mr. Sensenbrenner.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

High School Grads Twice As Likely To Be Jobless Than College Grads – and Right-Wingers are Profiting From Their Pain

Another reason for the anti-tax hooligans to prevent people from attending college.

High School Grads Twice As Likely To Be Jobless Than College Grads – and Right-Wingers are Profiting From Their Pain

It's usually about the money -- for some.

It's time to legalize medical marijuana

Hi everyone,

Thanks to Andy Montgomery for kick starting this column.

Saturday's column.

Shedding light on marijuana bogeyman

For decades, Jacki Rickert has suffered with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a defect in the development of connective tissue that results in weak joints subject to easy dislocation) and Advanced Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (also known as complex regional pain syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes chronic pain in the skin, joints, and bones).

Both illnesses are debilitating; neither is curable.

In May 1990, Jacki was approved by the federal government to receive medical marijuana under the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug Program. The state of Wisconsin followed suit in December 1990. It’s 19 years later and no medical marijuana was provided. Ever since, Jacki has wondered: “Is my medicine legal yet?”

Medical marijuana bills have been introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature since 2001 but, this year, a bill called the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act has been put before the Wisconsin Legislature, introduced in Senate Bill 368 and Assembly Bill 554.

The question is, will Wisconsin finally join the 13 other states with medical marijuana laws on their books – including Michigan where, just last year, a similar bill was passed? It’s possible. This year, Jacki may finally get the medical marijuana thenpresidential candidate Bill Clinton promised her in 1990.

Rep. Pocan, a sponsor of the Assembly bill, explained that the Obama administration’s recent change in enforcement policy and a turnabout on marijuana by the American Medical Association (which now supports reviewing marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance in order to begin serious, medically driven research) make passing the bill more likely than in previous years.

In addition to the recent endorsement by the AMA and the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Nurses Association came out strongly in favor of the 2005 version, introduced into the Assembly by then-Rep. Gregg Underheim (R-Oshkosh).

Not everyone in Madison is happy. Rep. Leah Vukmir, although a nurse, finds herself opposing both the AMA and her own professional association when she claims to be worried about safety issues. While still chair of the Health and Healthcare Reform Committee (now in the hands of John Richards, D-19th district, a former volunteer with Mother Teresa), she told the press that “she believes it is better for patients to use medications that have been approved or may soon be available than to have people grow their own marijuana.”

The safety of “approved medications” is no longer comforting. Concerns about the “safety” of marijuana might be prudent, but are a bit ludicrous when you consider that our pharmaceutical industry is currently conducting the greatest unregulated experiment in altering consciousness in the history of our species. Think of the children popping Ritalin and Adderall like Skittles. Think of the recalls and class action suits under way, all the result of “approved medications.” The same federal agencies that approved those drugs listed marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. To put that into perspective, PCP and methamphetamine are Schedule II.

Makes me wonder whether the people who made this decision were high at the time.

The safety issue becomes even clearer when you consider that, in 2000, adverse reactions to prescription drugs killed around 32,000 Americans, aspirin (yes, aspirin) killed nearly 7,600, and marijuana killed – nobody. No scientific literature links marijuana with mortality.

But hey, safety and science be damned. Show me the money.

In 2004, when William F. Buckley supported legalization in the pages of the National Review, he noted that the approximately 700,000 arrests for possession each year – generally for small amounts, not trafficking – cost the U.S. taxpayer $10 billion to $15 billion. More remarkable is how much tax revenue medical marijuana could generate. In 2005 economists at Harvard estimated that legalization would save “$7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition,“ $5.3 billion of which would go back to state and local governments. They also estimated that legalization could generate $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates similar to alcohol or tobacco. In the state-by-state breakdown, Wisconsin stood to make $13 million to $15 million a year. That’s a lot of new kindergarten teachers.

While Rep. Vukmir may remain opposed for what must be religious, if not scientific reasons, her most conservative colleague in the state Senate has not joined her. Sen. Glenn Grothman, when asked about the bill reportedly said he has not made up his mind yet, “but is inclined to vote for it unless someone gives him a good reason not to. ... It wouldn’t shock me if I vote for it,” Grothman said.

It is a pleasure to see Sen. Grothman agreeing with real conservatives, like the late Mr. Buckley, who well understood that you don’t make a bogeyman go away by burying yourself even deeper under the quilts of your own ignorance. You make the bogeyman go away by turning the lights on.

For an interesting read on all of this, check out MAPS.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Round about on roundabouts

I'm struck by how, in these days of ultra-conservative extinction bursts, everything, apparently, is a communist plot.

Saturday's column

Round about on roundabouts

They’re driven to become our new best friend

They’ve been installing roundabouts here in Washington County at an increasing rate, with more planned. I like them. They’re fun and they accommodate, better than any other intersection, the Wisconsin Rolling Stop. No more tickets for rolling, no matter how slowly, through a stop sign.

I would never have thought it possible to politicize these well-established, cost-effective, and vastly safer traffic control methodologies as some kind of Soviet apparatchik intrusion into the comfortable stop-and-go lights of suburban life, but one of our other Opinion page columnists has come out against them on the grounds that they’re inconvenient and confusing -- and an example of a socialist/communist state bureaucracy run amok.

It seems a big new roundabout at I-43 and Moorland Road in New Berlin has had a steep learning curve that puts it out of step with the statistics that make roundabouts both fashionable and desirable. Even though the rate of accidents with injuries has been cut in half, this new interchange is still having a lot of fender-benders, nearly three per month over the past year and a half, including during construction.

For all this inconvenience, the transition to roundabouts is not being driven by a bunch of Bolshevik lawyers in Madison, but by economic considerations. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has developed some well-tested projections about what kind of savings roundabouts can provide in terms of accidents, injury and drive times. These are the figures the DOT thought would be worth pursuing.

First, think about this: In a normal intersection there are about 32 ways one car can run into another one. In a roundabout, there are only eight. In a study of 23 intersections where roundabouts replaced stop signs, the IIHS found total crashes decreased by 39 percent, but that crashes involving injuries decreased by 76 percent and those involving fatalities or permanent injury were cut by 90 percent. When the insurance industry issues numbers like this the only wonder is that the DOT didn’t install these circles all over the state.

But there’s more. Roundabouts save time and money for drivers. Figures from the same study showed that in about half the locations vehicle delays were cut by 62 percent to 74 percent. Working out the math suggests that drivers saved 325,000 hours in wait-time over one year and, because you don’t have to come to a complete stop and idle at a stoplight or stop sign, saved 235,000 gallons of gas.

The municipalities that removed stoplights saved, on average, $5,000 per year per intersection on electricity and maintenance. A real world example is the city of Golden, Colo. with a population of just under 20,000. I found a consultant’s report from 2004 that showed accident rates had dropped by 88 percent. Better yet, their roundabouts reduced the number of accidents with injuries from 31, in the three years before installation, to only one in the four and a half years after.

When you’re hunting down Bolsheviks responsible for making your life less convenient, it’s easy to overlook history. Our local roundabouts were by no means the first ones the DOT trotted out. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, more than two years ago, that despite some initial reluctance, they tried roundabouts in Madison and Eau Claire first. The DOT found that, indeed, roundabouts “kept traffic moving and resulted in fewer injury accidents.” Even in West Bend, the city Planning Department tells me the roundabout out at Highway G and Paradise Drive has cut accident rates dramatically.

So they’re safer, but what if we still don’t like ‘em? Well, people do like them.

Everywhere they’ve been installed satisfaction rates among motorists jump after a few months. In 2002, another IIHS study found that while only 31 percent of drivers supported roundabouts before construction, support climbed to 63 percent within a few months. When they followed up a year later, “the level of public support increased to about 70 percent on average.”

You could still argue that roundabouts are just too confusing – that would explain some of the trouble they’ve been having down there at I-43 and Moorland. On the other hand, the roundabout isn’t confused, it’s the drivers. They’re turning the wrong way and even stopping in the middle of the lane when they can’t figure out what to do next. All this will pass with experience and, in the meantime, remember, they’re only driving at about 10 mph.

My grandfather was an engineer for the city of Minneapolis back in the ancient days, and liked to reminisce about the year they rearranged their downtown into one-way streets. People were furious for years afterward and yet, today, those changes made all the difference in traffic flow and driver convenience. Roundabouts are annoying for some people when they first go in but, eventually, your exit will appear and you’ll wonder why we ever went round and round on roundabouts and what we ever did without them.

I'm waiting for fluoridation to come back around.


ps: Roundabouts, the whole truth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Poor Pay More in Wisconsin.

As predicted.

One Wisconsin Now | Cody's Web Log: The Poor Pay More

Details from a new report from the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy

Tiddly pom.

A reader responds.

Mr. Schille over in Saukville responds.

God will have the last word

On Saturday, Nov. 14, Mark Peterson had one of his intellectual editorials printed. Three cheers. He knows how to use the dictionary.

Too bad he doesn’t know how to use the Bible as well. If he did, he’d know that many of the words we use today are derived from the Bible. “Sodomy” happens to be one of those – from Sodom and Gomorrah and the lifestyle those people tried to enforce on everyone until the triune God of the Bible was fed up and annihilated the whole countryside. See Genesis 18:20-33 and 19:1-29. You might continue reading on through verse 38. It’s pretty interesting and gives an insight of the people who are descendents of Lot and who still live there today.

In regard to all the free speech Mr. Peterson advocates, let the people say what they want. God is still going to have the last word anyway.

Fredric Schille

Town of Saukville

It is a bit odd to be accused of being an intellectual, and then accused of not knowing the etymology of the words I'm analyzing, but I am grateful for Mr. Schille's correction and it might not be gratuitous to call his attention to Malachi 4:1 and check his leaf blower.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Can you shout "Sodomite!" in a crowded theater -- when children are present?

Hi everyone,

It started when a friend called this sign to my attention. It's on Hwy 167 a 100 yards or so from the Richfield Elementary School.

"Hmmm," I said.

Saturday's column.

May one shout sodomite in a crowded theater?

Just west of Richfield Elementary School along Highway 167, someone has erected a sign that reads SODOMITES WILL STILL BURN IN HELL REGARDLESS OF NEW ‘HATE CRIMES’ LAW. It reminded me of the huge OBAMA IS THE ANTI-CHRIST sign that appeared on a front lawn in West Bend just before the election last year, right beside an even bigger Halloween display – I guess it’s OK to celebrate pagan festivals, if candy is involved. That sign seemed to be a clear case of protected speech, even if I am left unable to distinguish it from a Taliban press release.

Sodomites, too, is a phrase of religious origin, but its presence in big capital letters near an elementary school raises some interesting questions about the limits of free speech.

For instance: what if, instead of using words, the landowner had used pictures to deliver his message? Would a picture of two people engaged in sodomy, burning in hell, be acceptable. Would the picture be OK if it was an abstract painting of sodomy? Or would stick figures be more acceptable, say, than a high definition photograph? Shoot, how about a giant JumboTron video screen with a live action DVD playing on a continuous loop during school hours?

In some weird way, the stick figures might be more unsettling.

However you draw it, someone would have complained.

But where do we draw the line on offensive speech shouted in public?

What if the sign contained other, even more obscure, sexually explicit terms? Does lack of familiarity with a word make it less offensive? Or what about one of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On TV?” I mean, if the newspaper can’t print them, should neighbors be expected to tolerate them on a yard sign?

I thought of other avenues of protest and wondered whether the sign maker could get vanity license plates that say H8SODOMY? Probably not. The relevant Wisconsin Department of Transportation statute says the DOT may “refuse to issue any combination of letters or numbers, or both, which the department determines may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or which may be misleading.” (Sec. 341.145 (7), Stats.). There are some sneaky and amusing, but mostly unprintable, examples at The Smoking Gun Web site, which has a collection of letters complaining about Wisconsin license plates from over the past 20 years. Frankly, if some of those terms weren’t allowed, sodomy is probably off limits too.

Even if you can’t put SODOMITE on a license plate in Wisconsin, the sign in Richfield protests recent legislation and thus remains protected political speech. The only time government should step in is when someone starts shouting fire in crowded theater. So, does the right to free speech protect someone who shouts sodomite in a crowded theater? Yep.

The phrase, “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” originally appears in the 1919 U.S. Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States. What Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes actually wrote was this: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” This test was overturned in 1969 by Brandenburg v. Ohio which imposed even stricter constraints on when the government can restrict speech; specifically, the Brandenburg case limits the scope of banned speech to language that is intended and likely to “incite imminent lawless action” – like a riot. I don’t foresee rioting in Richfield.

So, vanity plates notwithstanding, it looks like sodomite is shoutable in a crowded theater and is, thus, protected under the Constitution.

There is one wrinkle worth considering, however.

Like most protests that depend on sexual (or racial) bigotry, the sign in Richfield trips over its own feet. Think about it: the sort of people who write things like “SODOMITES WILL BURN IN HELL” typically don’t want fourth-graders thinking about sodomy. But in the same way that trying to ban books simply encourages kids to read precisely those books, a big whopping sign with the word SODOMITE on it will encourage every kid who saw it from the school bus to immediately locate a dictionary and look it up – and then tell their friends.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary has: sodomite: “one who practices sodomy.” Kids are smart. They’ll look up sodomy next, which Merriam-Websters online defines as “anal or oral copulation with a member of the same or opposite sex; also copulation with an animal.” Next they’ll look up “copulation.”

I confess I’d forgotten that sodomy includes sex with animals, but I’ve probably lived a more sheltered life than the sign writer. We can, however, safely assume that copulating with animals will now be cemented into the psyche of every child at Richfield Elementary school who looked it up, and we have this sodomite-hating protester to thank for increasing their vocabularies.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sensenbrenner senseless again on health care.

Hi everyone,

Right, Rep. Sensenbrenner spilled milk and then cried about it in the Daily News on Saturday under the headline: "Americans give a thumbs down on health care."

-- except, they don't. Recent Gallup numbers suggest otherwise: despite what the guy in Elm Grove holding up the cardboard TeaBagger sign said, most Americans are giving Congress a big thumbs up on health care and Rep. Sensenbrenner ... well, they're using a different finger entirely.

Now, it is true that most Americans want to take time to do this properly, but Rep. Sensenbrenner's mere ditto-heading the Rush/Beck/Fox/Insurance company talking points that the government is going to take away medical decisions from your doctor -- something the insurance companies have *now* -- is a clear indicator of who is buttering the Representative's toast.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Recycling Dick's Pizzaria

Hi everyone,

Everything changes. The Binkery's been relocated and the building next door, Dick's Pizza, was razed to make way for a new Walgreens.

I had a great conversation with the construction manager about new protocols for managing the debris economically and environmentally. They did a nice job on minding the environmental p's and q's, but West Bend, like cities everywhere needs to start thinking more seriously about adopting LEED standards for new construction.

Saturday's column.

Recycling Dick’s Pizza a brick at a time

West Bend can follow environmental LEED

Last week I watched a giant back-hoe claw Dick's Pizza into rubble. Rest in pieces, Dick’s Pizza. The first pizza I ate in West Bend was one of their specials with everything. I had just moved into one of the bunker-style apartments on Morgan and, on that day, all my worldly possessions consisted of eight boxes of books, a brick and board bookshelf, a futon and a wok. And a Dick’s pizza. That pizza, I’ll confess, made me hopeful.

With the entire northeastern corner of Washington and 18th now bulldozed flat, I wondered where the pieces had gone. I watched The Binkery roll down Highway 33 to its new home, but where did Dick’s end up?

The project manager at the Redmond Company (the group now installing our third Walgreens) and the city engineering and planning departments helped me track down the pizza crumbs of aggregate, steel and asphalt.

They’ve taken good care of the site. For starters, nothing was wasted: more than 50 percent of Dick’s Pizza was recycled.

About 15 tons of steel was sold to salvage, around 2,100 tons of the old parking lot was pulverized and reused onsite as fill, and about 1,300 tons of concrete block is being stored near Fond du Lac and will eventually find its way into new construction projects. The aluminum cooking hoods were recycled and the old Dick’s Pizza sign was sold to the folks at Clothes Clinic who plan to retrofit it into a new sign for their business. Wave as you go by.

The interior furnishings were auctioned off last year. I was told the Hartford Jaycees came through and grabbed four 16-foot fake beams from the ceiling over the bar to be used in their annual Haunted House. That’s a nice retirement for those beams – helping to scare the dickens out of little kids. It’s poetic.

Recycling demolition debris is still largely cost driven so, if recycling facilities were close enough to offset the costs of hauling, the contractor used recycling. That’s economically important because landfills aren’t as cheap as they used to be.

On Oct. 1, Wisconsin added a surcharge on landfilling debris which the Associated Recyclers Of Wisconsin puts at a 67 percent cost increase. It looks like a lot, but the dollar cost is still significantly lower than neighboring states – one reason why Wisconsin has become a popular place for both Minnesota and Illinois to dump their garbage. In the big picture, the surcharge encourages recycling and will help to limit the garbage from Illinois entering Wisconsin – and I don’t just mean when the Bears play at Lambeau.

They also took good care of Silver Creek, which runs right behind the site.

Some of you may remember when runoff from construction of the Walmart Superstore damaged the headwaters of Quaas Creek. Nobody wants that to happen again, so the environmental assessment, completed prior to demolition and construction, was a strict one. The construction site required a DNR Chapter 30 individual permit (the most restrictive kind) because Silver Creek is, technically, a navigable waterway. Yes: a navigable waterway.

Here’s the DNR’s definition: “Public lakes, rivers, and streams have a bottom (bed) and side (bank), and enough water to float any boat, skiff, or canoe of the shallowest draft on a reoccurring basis.” I suppose a plastic duck, painted to look like Louis Armstrong, floating down Silver Creek through Regner Park during the annual Fourth of July Duck Derby races, constitutes a shallow draft vessel.

More seriously, the creek is listed under the DNR’s Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest (ASNRI) designation because it’s vital to the health of those ponds in Regner Park and, remember: no Silver Creek, no Duck Derby.

Recycling Dick’s Pizza embodied good economic sense, with environmental and social responsibility for toppings – that didn’t cost extra. Most companies now recognize that the triple bottom line (which expands the measure of success from economic, to include environmental and social implications) saves money in the long run. It’s a great start on economic, environmental and socially responsible construction methods.

As a community, we can do more. We can adopt the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation standard developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED standards provide architects and developers with guidelines for making their buildings economically, and environmentally, friendlier.

The usual cities have already adopted LEED standards, places like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, but even here in West Bend we have some famous examples: the new Gehl building and West Bend Mutual’s recent addition both implemented LEED standards. West Bend Mutual has even been recognized as an early adopter of green building methods, which are as good for the bottom line as they are for the environment. Maybe it’s time for the city of West Bend to be recognized for taking the LEED in construction and innovative development.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Republican leadership couldn't get insurance under its own proposal.

Irony irony irony,

From Thom Hartmann:
In a great Republican Irony - the Republican House Leadership would not be able to find affordable insurance under their own proposal. The six Republican legislators have an average the age of 52 and, as a group, are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, different cancers, high blood pressure, and a host of other chronic diseases. Their Republican healthcare alternative would permit insurers to discriminate against them and price these Republican leaders out of the market. Off with their healthcare!
How many teabaggers would have showed up in Washington without Right-Wing Billionaire David Koch helping to pay for 40 buses to haul them free of charge to the anti healthcare rally organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann? Inquiring minds want to know, but given that 40 subsidized busses showed up it may be that without the help of millionaires and billionaires, Michelle would have been talking to a dozen hardcore true believers.

Or simply justice.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Son of Eagle Forum founder to rewrite the Bible.

Hi everyone,

Just because Ms. Schlafly has been on the radar here lately, and because her local followers called her in, I thought it'd be useful to get a closer look at the consequences so, for instance:

Conservative to reinterpret the Bible
FAR HILLS, N.J., Oct. 19 (UPI) -- A New Jersey man says he is reinterpreting the Bible to excise what he considers two objectionable passages.

Andrew Schlafly, the son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and head of the Conservative Bible Project, also wants to replace certain terms with language that would make the Bible more masculine, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported Sunday.

Schlafly's Bible would omit verses about snake handling and the story of the adulteress, about whom Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Schlafly said these verses should be cut because they portray Christ as being too easy on sinners.

"..because they portray Christ as being too easy on sinners"?

What's clear is that this kind of Wild West exegetical hubris walnut didn't fall too far from the tree.

If this is the sort of Jesus we can expect from the Eagle Forum, what's their public policy going to look like?

I'm just sayin'.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A reader responds to my Eagle Forum column

Curiouser and curiouser.

A letter in this morning's Daily News about my column on the Eagle Forum a few weeks back.

University of Wisconsin-Washington County college professor Mark Peterson wrote that his “hobby since the 1970s” has been following my career. But he apparently didn’t learn much about me. Almost everything he said about me is just a mish-mash of feminist delusions.

It should be obvious that I never wanted women to be bound by alleged stereotypes because I worked my way through Washington University on the night shift testing .30- and .50-caliber ammunition by firing rifles and machine guns. That was hardly a typical stereotypical job, and it proved to be good preparation to defend myself against the cheap shots fired by whining feminists who were peddling the line that American women are victims of an oppressive patriarchy.

As a result of their ideology of victimology, they refuse to believe that women can be successful, and they resent women who are successful. That’s why they put down successful women like Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Sarah Palin and myself.

Practically everything Peterson wrote about me has no basis in fact; he must have invented his litany of accusations on his moon voyage. His only true statement about me is that I oppose “federally financed and regulated daycare.” That was a major goal of the feminists in 1989-1990 because they believe it is discrimination for society to expect mothers to care for their own children. We defeated the feminist push for this expensive goal because the majority of American people don't want their tax dollars to provide babysitters for other people's children.

Phyllis Schlafly
President, Eagle Forum

I'd like to express my gratitude to Ms. Schlafly for taking the trouble to ask one of her interns to draft up this letter to the editor and prove my point.

[Let's face it, only an intern would have been tasked to respond to little old me, or have demonstrated the historical myopia to link Sarah Palin with fascinating, important, and literate, women like Maggie Thatcher or Jeane Kirkpatrick.]


Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Modest Proposal for fixing the School Board budget crisis: outsourcing.

Hi everyone,

I cannot imagine why this wasn't obvious from the beginning.

Solve school budget woes by outsourcing

Parents’ disposable income will soar with tax savings

I made a mathematical error a couple of weeks ago about how much the tax levy would cost the average district tax payer. I’d misheard the number through the jeering crowd at the September School Board meeting. Some friends with better hearing pointed me to the printed documents and, rather than $15 a month for a $200,000 house, the actual number comes closer to $9 a month. For a median priced house in the district, the cost would be even lower.

Still, for the loudest complainers who heard the correct figure, even the lower rate was too much. I realized these people must be in rough shape financially or that, maybe, they’re just frugal. I looked at the 2007 American Communities Survey census-update to find out.

Admittedly, unemployment here is up from 5 percent in 2007 to 12.2 percent in September. If people are unemployed and paying a big mortgage, then $9 a month can be a lot of money, but what about the 87.8 percent who aren't unemployed? How are they doing? It turns out they’re doing pretty well.

About 72 percent of the housing in the district is owner-occupied. The average household of an owner-occupied unit is 2.6 people so, assuming 2 parents, that’s actually less than one child per household. Moreover 45 percent of these people have two cars and 20 percent have three. The median household value in 2007 was about $192,000 which means the average tax paying citizen in the district has a monthly mortgage of around $1,100, assuming a 30-year fixed mortgage at 5.6 percent with 20 percent down and about $2,600 a year in property taxes.

Those booing the rate increase, then, pay on average $1,100 a month in mortgage costs. Since about 65 percent of them have two or more cars and can afford $1,100 a month on their mortgages, an extra $9 looks pretty affordable.

So maybe they aren’t broke, maybe they’re just frugal and let’s face it, kids are expensive. In fact, the cost of raising a child in the U.S. rolls in – like a tsunami – at around $230,000 over 18 years.

But there’s good news. I’ve figured out how to save them even more money on the costs of raising their kids: outsourcing. Why not outsource raising our children to China? Why shouldn’t we apply the principles of free trade to child rearing? Let the market prevail! Ship them off for 12 years to be raised and educated in China.

I wasn’t able to get absolute figures from China or India but as a percentage of GDP, China spends 2.2 percent to the United State’s 4.8 percent (in 2003 data) so let’s be conservative and assume it’d cost about half as much to raise a child in China. That will leave parents not only with $115,000 in personal savings, but saves them money in lowered tax rates at both the state and national levels. Plus that extra $9 a month to spend on whatever they want. Think of the cost savings and the economies of scale – and think of what they can do with all that extra money.

Other advantages aren’t immediately obvious. Parents won't be bothered with the financial or psychological burden of raising their children, which will significantly lower stress levels and, with the introduction of these new child-rearing efficiencies, buoy the economy. People could finally afford all the toys they’ve been putting off buying for themselves, like that 52-inch TV, a fourth car, or maybe another snowmobile, and all the Starbuck’s mochas they want. They’ll be free to divert any of their income to satisfying personal wants instead of covering the cost of being responsible for their children.

Sure, the kids will be missed, but there’s Skype and Facebook – parents will still be able to see their kids, over the Internet, anytime they like. The kids will also learn Chinese and be better at math than other American kids, like Chinese kids are now.

Best of all, these outsourced kids won’t have to endure the psychological trauma of being raised by parents who think that $9 a month is more important than they are.

While we were are it, maybe China would cut us a deal for outsourcing Jackson’s police department, too.

Ah, Swift.

More seriously, there are alternatives. I see in the Daily News today that St. Joe's Hospital said their physicians are moving over to Slinger because West Bend's school facilities are hampering their recruitment -- something predicted last year when the Bleed the Schools cadres managed to disable part of the referendum. Nice going guys.

So, what to do? Support West Bend Schools, that's what. There's a new website with the details. Happily enough, it's called Support West Bend Schools.


Glenn Grothman: wrong on campaign finance reform

Hi everyone,

A bill that would diminish the financial power of corporations to elect Supreme Court Justices sounds like it might be a good idea, but not to Glenn.

Bill could add finance funds for justice elections

There is opposition to the bill, with some believing that with the current economic and budget problems the state is facing, no money will be left for financing campaigns, according to Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.

"Our state is so broke that the idea that the taxpayers can handle the burden to pay for state Supreme Court candidates at this time is completely inappropriate,” Grothman said.

Thank heavens the corporate interests in the state can afford to drop millions getting their candidates elected. So long as corporations are happy, why should any of us worry whether they've paid for Supreme Court Justices? I mean, what could go wrong?


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Glenn Grothman comes out in support of the West Bend School board?

Had to cross link this bit of news. Even Senator Grothman was able to do the math on this one.

Glenn Grothman: right for supporting the West Bend School board.

Where's Boots and Sabers when you need them? Probably off, being right, somewhere.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Sarah Palin to appear at State Fair Park

Nice to know she's got work... or is this, technically, a "job"? I mean, in some meaningful way?

Sarah Palin to appear at State Fair Park - JSOnline

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin will visit Milwaukee next month for a speech at State Fair Park.

The former Republican vice presidential candidate will speak Nov. 6 at the Wisconsin Exposition Center in West Allis. Tickets cost $30 each and can be purchased online only at No tickets will be sold at the door.

The program is scheduled from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Palin's visit is sponsored by Wisconsin Right to Life and will feature Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM (620) as master of ceremonies. Palin was Sen. John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

Uh, ceremonies?


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans

Some research on what's becoming the Republican base.

For the full report: The Very Separate World.

an excerpt:

The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barack Obama to be sure – which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush – but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.

Mocked? One of the things I've noticed, increasingly since last year, but especially over the past few months, is that these so-called conservatives have picked up and are playing the victimization card more and more often. It's very satisfying I imagine and really justifies the displays of indignation and self-righteousness -- but it also strikes me as ironic that these privileged white boys would use the same political technique they bash in groups that have been demonstrably victimized by our society.

Truth is, if Rush were black, the African American leadership in this country wouldn't even let him walk Jessie Jackson's dog.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Eagle (Forum) has landed

Hi everyone,

I wrote a note back in September about the landing of the Eagle Forum in Wisconsin.

They now have a chapter in Washington County.

Saturday's column.

The Eagle has landed

I remember the thrill of watching Apollo 11 land on the moon and the calm confidence in Neil Armstrong’s voice when he radioed back “Houston, this is Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.” Watching human beings land on the moon was an amazing experience.

Not long afterward, a number of comedians joked that if the tables were turned, and Lunar inhabitants had landed on Earth, we might not be quite as thrilled – although it would still be an amazing experience. And that’s what it feels like to know the Eagle Forum has landed here in Wisconsin. It’s like having Moon people land on you.

But why are they here? Following recent failures to block civic progress (like failing to block an improved high school harassment policy that now includes hate speech based in gender preference, or failing to block successful passage of the last school referendum, or failing to prevent citizens from having free access to information in their library) one local group called for outside reinforcements in the form of the anti-equal-rights-for-women and anti-science storm troopers commanded by the redoubtable Phyllis Schlafly.

Phyllis Schlafly has been a hobby of mine since the 1970s. She’s a walking contradiction. While campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment, editing a monthly newsletter, and earning a law degree from Washington University, Schlafly made a lot of noise criticizing women who, rather than remain bound by the stereotypical 1950s Jello-mold of womanhood, decided to live bigger, freer lives – women like my mom. For instance.

My mom sold real estate, was one of the first financial planners in the country, and now works in the tourism and convention planning industry – and, much to my horror, has become a Republican. My brothers and I are none the worse for wear as a result of her going off to work; in fact, she’s my role model for what a successful woman looks like. She baked great chocolate chip cookies, had a family who loved her deeply, and advised clients on mutual funds. Plus she plays the ukulele.

Schlafly has gone to some trouble over the years to characterize the choices my mom made as examples of a feminist conspiracy responsible for the downfall of American values. I am unable to think of my mom as being responsible for the downfall of American values.

That was then, but nothing has changed. The Eagle Forum’s anti-working woman bias is as silkily toxic and internally contradictory today as it was in Schlafly’s 1970s activism. Their mission statement contains the following plank, splintered through with class warfare.

“We oppose the feminist goal of federally financed and regulated day care.”

Um, wait … do they oppose daycare because they believe no working mom needs daycare for their kids or should expect help from her own government?

This is not the point of view of mothers from planet Earth. This is Moony talk. This is how America looks through the privileged lenses of a law degree and plenty of money. Recent studies from Brandeis University and from the Motherhood Project at the Institute for American Values have demonstrated that most women stay home only because they can’t get a job and that most women who do get a job, work – not because they want to, not out of choice, but out of necessity. They work to support their families.

If it’s a feminist goal to insist that the government help American women by providing day care – so that they can earn enough to keep their families off of welfare – then most of the women in America are already part of the “feminist” conspiracy to improve the lives of their families. You can’t claim to support the rights of women and families and then oppose the kind of social services that would actually improve their lives.

See? Lunar folks say the strangest things.

There’s also their opposition to science. Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum is the same street gang who helped push through a law that put labels inside biology textbooks in Alabama warning kids that evolution is “only” a theory. We’ve been here before. Maybe we should put warning labels on swine flu vaccine warning people that the scientific claim that germs cause disease is only a theory.

Are these the values we want our kids to assimilate? Should kids be taught that if mom doesn’t stay home, she’s a bad mom? Or that science doesn’t actually explain anything?

It’s true, I’m prejudiced. I am guilty of having an Earth-o-centric bias when it comes to evaluating politics that come from the Moon.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

When it's good to be too conservative: a correction to the school board taxy levy.


When I came up with the $15/$200k house estimate for the school board tax levy, I was using a figure I thought I heard from the chair of the school board through loud jeers from the crowd. A few friends with better math skills, and ears, wrote to correct me.

The rate is lower.

According to an Oct 6 newspaper article, the mill rate for the 9.9% increase would be a $7.44 rate... which works out to be less than $10 a month on a $200,000 house, not $15.

I've also had friends write in to note that, even though their homes have increased in value dramatically in the last 20 years, they are actually paying LESS in school taxes than they did 20 years ago... not a lower rate. They're paying less in real dollars.

So, those complaining that this rate increase is too high either can't manage their own budgets properly, have prioritized cable-TV ahead of their neighborhood education system, or are recently out of work.

Only the last group have a good argument.

If anyone can locate real numbers that contradict mine -- and everything I've seen indicates we live in a town with one of the most efficient school districts and one of the higher median household incomes in the state -- let me know and I'll post it up.

I'm also a bit confused by the argument that too many people are out of work... the rate has gone up some since April, but during that referendum half passed rather handily and the other half only lost by 16 votes inside the city limits. Maybe the rich folks out there in the subdivisions, with the expensive houses and the SUV's, have been hit harder than those of us who live in modest houses and drive economy cars -- that might explain some of the resistance.

I guess it is tough to scale back from two Hummers to one Hummer and a Denali. I imagine some of them had to give up one of their jet skis too, and maybe even a snowmobile.

Better to keep that $10 a month for gas money, rather than new kindergarten teachers.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Should West Bend students bring their own toilet paper to school?

I imagine this idea would be a thrilling new possibility to our colleagues in the irate strangle-the-schools majority -- except the source is foreign and, therefore, suspect. Nonetheless:
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish parents struggling to buy schoolbooks and uniforms in the face of a deep recession may now have to worry about sending their children to school with a toilet roll as well as a packed lunch.

Pupils at a primary school in the southern county of Cork are being asked to bring their own toilet paper to school to help save money, one of the starkest examples yet of the death of Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" economy.

"The letter was sent out just as a way of balancing books here in the school and not intended as a demand," said Catherine O'Neill, principal at St John's Girls National School.

O'Neill said the request was made because of cuts to government grants for books and computers. She added that parents were responding well.

"I've done a quick tour of the classrooms this morning and I'd say at least half the pupils have brought them (toilet rolls) in," she told national broadcaster RTE.

"I have no doubt that there are an enormous number of schools out there that are doing the same thing."

West Bend's School Board: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Hi everyone,

The local rightwing blogosphere have been playing the "us against the elitists" card again last week when one of their posse said the West Bend School board had lost the trust of taxpayers.

They hadn't lost my trust. Considering the budget shortfalls they've had to endure, the board is being operated by Eagle Scouts.

So, why would anyone suggest we can't trust a school board of volunteers (their $2000 stipends are stipends, not salaries) who, repeatedly over the last few years, saved us money? Lots of money.

The only answer I can come up with is that this isn't about trust -- it's about making political hay.

As usual.

Saturday's column.

A trustworthy school board doesn’t need to swing an axe

Trust was nowhere to be seen in the public display by irate protesters at the School Board meeting on Sept. 28. The relatively straightforward financial analysis presented by the School Board in support of a plan to correct a state imposed budget shortfall had no effect on the crowd. Their apparent distrust of the School Board’s recommendations was curiously unmoved by the facts and their questions – and the almost staged cheering that followed – were curiouser still.

The first question from the NO side was a thoughtful comment about how difficult it is to increase public spending with the economy in its current state. It drew a healthy round of applause and lots of nods from people on both sides of the issue.

After this courteous beginning, questions from the negative side grew increasingly irate and accusatory – and weird.

One of the first negative questioners accused the School Board of giving itself raises and then taxing us to pay for them. The crowd cheered wildly in solidarity – until they were quietly reminded that School Board members receive a stipend that hasn't been raised since the 1980s. The crowd seemed disappointed.

Another questioner criticized the board for not publicizing the meeting – his implication was that the board had tried to hide the meeting from the public. He complained he’d only heard about it from local conservative talk radio. The crowd howled with satisfaction – but again, the facts were disappointing. Like all public institutions, the School Board is bound by clear and enforceable rules that mandate how they announce their meetings. The gym fell silent as school district Superintendent Pat Herdrich counted out the number of public announcements that had actually been made. More than a dozen.

One of those who spoke in favor noted that most people with a $200,000 house should be able to afford the modest $15 a month increase in the taxes, since West Bend was in one of the wealthier counties in the state. People booed angrily as if this fact were not true. Again, I have to wonder why they’d boo the truth.

Frankly, if citizens in a county with one of the highest median incomes in the state can’t manage their personal budgets well enough to afford an extra $15 a month for their kids, but can still afford cell phones (a great number of the loudest protesters dutifully switched off their phones at the beginning of the meeting), then they aren’t the best people to criticize public spending.

The School Board, by contrast, has demonstrated great skill and frugality with our money. Despite crushing economic circumstances, the board has managed to keep district spending, compared to 24 similar districts, the lowest in spending per student, second lowest in the property tax mill rate, fourth lowest in administrative spending per student, seventh lowest in administrators per student, and 14th lowest in staff wages and benefits per student – well below the state average. A lot of the negative comments complained we were paying too much for education in West Bend. The facts say we’re paying less than almost anyone in the state.

In fact, tax history over the last 14 years makes the West Bend School Board look like financial wizards. You can check for yourself at the Department of Public Instruction’s Basic Facts and in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Over the past 14 years, taxpayers in West Bend have seen total school taxes increase by about 1.5 percent per year while inflation averaged 3 percent; in other words, inflation has increased at roughly twice the rate of school taxes. During the same period, personal income in Washington County increased at nearly three times the rate of local school taxes. In other words, not only do we have one of the most efficient school districts in the state, we are better able to afford it now than we were 14 years ago.

So here's the question that keeps popping into mind: how can anyone call a school board that saves taxpayers money and produces some of the best students in the state un-trustworthy? You can’t – not honestly.

But back to my suspicions: if the board is trustworthy – as demonstrated by the money they’ve saved us over the years – then why did people show up at the meeting to angrily muddy the waters?

Some of the protesters carried Tea Party signs, so I tracked down the online affiliations for one of our local Tea Party related groups to The Sam Adams Alliance. I found a quotation from Sam on their home page that, sadly, explained why some people may have acted as they did on Sept. 28.

Referring to the enemies of our young Republic, Sam said, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in the minds of men.”

Sam was right, of course, but why would anyone use the guerrilla tactics employed by one of our Founding Fathers against their own schools? Maybe these people believe the public schools are their enemy.

The facts do not support that point of view. The School Board has repeatedly demonstrated that it is trustworthy, loyal, thrifty and brave. The board has an obligation not only to us, but to the next generation of American citizens – they should approve the rate increase and meet that obligation.

Elected officials, even school boards, are elected to represented us -- to exercise their judgment on our behalf. Not to be sock puppets for whoever happens to be loudest that week. They should stick with their judgment now and not blend to the irate and shifty winds of political bluster.