Thursday, April 30, 2009

Study finds conservative viewers of Stephen Colbert's comedy show think he's on their side

Of course.

Study finds conservative viewers of Stephen Colbert's comedy show think he's on their side

"Our results aren't that conservatives don't get the joke. It's that how you see the joke depends on who you are," says Kristen Landreville, a PhD student in communications at Ohio State University and one of three co-authors. "If you're conservative, you think the joke's on liberals because he's openly making fun of liberals."


Saturday, April 25, 2009

If people aren't rational, why do we believe in Economics?

Good question. ;^)

One of the problems with politics grounded in economics -- whether you're Marx or one of Milton Friedman's acolytes in Congress -- is that economics confuses wealth with happiness: a wealthy life with a happy life. At least Marx understood alienation of labour.

If you're going to be unhappy you might as well be rich, I always say.

My friend Deb sent this to me. It's a good job -- although the Aristotelian in me has to note that Professor Kozy got Aristotle a bit wrong. Aristotle noted trenchantly if not tragically (in Nicomachean Ethics Book X) that ethics only works if people are rational and, since they aren't, we have to make due with politics instead.


Global Crisis: Is Economics Rational?


Teabagging of America organized by Dick Armey, and friends.

Hi everyone,

My editor finally changed a headline on me.

I'd suggested: Teabagging of America organized by Dick Armey and friends

I suspect he felt this stepped over the line a bit.

Alas, what kind of an age do we live in when irony has become indistinguishable from fact?

Saturday's column as printed:

Armey, friends helped organize tea bagging of America

When I first saw that America was to be “tea bagged” as part of a “tax protest” organized by major figures from the now disenfranchised right wing of the Republican Party, I thought it must be a headline from The Onion gone viral – like the fake sports story from a few years ago claiming the U.S. Congress had threatened to leave Washington for Charlotte unless D.C. built them a new “capital dome” stadium. The official Chinese news media reported it as a real story.

“Teabagging America” sounded exactly the same. The story was given breathless, full day coverage on Fox News and ignored by every other media outlet – since the events were a staged political burlesque and only Fox specializes in theatricals.

Organized by starve-the-beast anti-tax Svengalis like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, with funding from the Coors and the Koch Foundations, teabaggers converged on state capitals across the country last week to stage “tea parties” – including Madison, where Paul Ryan apparently caffeinated the crowd with a teapot full of rhetoric about Democrats and excessive government spending. This is nearly as funny as the “Congress demands new dome” story, considering that Rep. Ryan voted for eight straight federal budgets that increased spending from $1.7 to $2.8 trillion dollars. Maybe the Democrats forced him do it.

I also discovered the wonderful term “Astroturf lobbying,” coined by former Senator Lloyd Bentsen to describe fake grassroots popularity. At the risk of mixing these metaphors, last week’s teabagging was merely Astroturf, a marketing pitch designed to fake large-scale grassroots support and stiffen anti-tax sentiment in ways the tax code no longer can.

As always with this crowd, once you check the numbers, and your wallet, teabagging turns out to be less satisfying than advertised. Let’s call it tea-goggles.

Anti-tax anger has been used successfully to arouse voters over the years, but the starch is draining out of the issue now that the bottom 95 percent of Americans are seeing some tax relief. Maybe the top 5 percent, and their poodles in the Congress, thought teabagging would harden support and make their issue prominent again.

It would take a lap dance like this to distract America from the truth. Think about it: they expect us to believe that Americans are opposed to a tax plan that reduces taxes for 95 percent of us, while correcting the artificially low rates George W. Bush had carved out for “his base,” the top 5 percent?

Yep, that’s what they expect us to believe.

Things look even funnier when you consider that the new top tax rate is still lower than it’s been for most of the last 40 years. Allowing Bush's tax cuts to expire simply means that the top bracket will pay at the rate they did in 2000, 39.6 percent, instead of the 33 percent they paid in 2009. That rate is still easier on their caviar budget than the 50 percent they paid in 1986 or the 70 percent they paid yearly back to 1965.

I don’t remember the ’80s being that rough on the wealthy – or the ’70s or the ’60s for that matter. Did they not have swimming pools and private jets back then?

Ah, but there is even more unhappy reality waiting for these silver spoon teabaggers. This month’s Gallup Poll reports that a record 61 percent of Americans, when asked if they believe their taxes are fair, said yes. That’s the highest level of approval since 1956. More recently, 1997-2001, only 47 percent-51 percent of Americans said their taxes were fair. And, finally, this year a full 43 percent of Republicans thought their tax rate was about right, up from 39 percent a few years ago.

Even more interesting is what you find when you strip away the political labels and look under the hood: 61 percent of people making under $30,000 think their tax rate is about right, as do 55 percent of those earning $30,000-$74,999, and even 48 percent of people earning over $75,000.

The original Boston tea party embodied the rallying cry of the American Revolution: No Taxation without Representation. But if 95 percent of us, along with our desire for fair taxes, are finally being represented in Washington, then who’s out there protesting?

A bunch of sandbaggers who’ve tried to teabag the rest of us, that’s who.

If I remember my long ago classes on operant conditioning correctly, the current brouhaha among the far right could easily be characterized as an "extinction behaviour."


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Happy Earth Day: a revolutionary solution to global warming and childhood obesity all in one.

Hi everyone,

Rather than storm over Senator Grothman being honored by the Americans for Prosperity (sic) crowd for signing their "no taxes to address global warming" pledge -- because we'd rather watch the Earth burn than raise taxes -- I found this wonderful story about kids walking to school. Somehow a story about kids seemed more appropriate for a Love your Mother Earth Day column than letting in all that teabagging anger and animousity the neocons are feeling these days. Leave the dead to bury the dead I say.

For the living, there's walking to school.

Saturday's column.

Happy Earth Day!

A low-tech solution to cut our carbon footprint, our taxes and childhood obesity

Environmental problems look worse every year. Global warming, invasive species and groundwater contamination can seem insurmountable. But here’s some good news: A technological revolution in transporting K-8 students to school is undergoing trials in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, La Crosse, Eau Claire, and even in Omro.

Relying on recent discoveries in pediatric health, this radical innovation reduces greenhouse gas emissions, eases parental stress, improves student concentration, addresses the health risks associated with childhood obesity and cuts taxes. Reactions range from shock to amazement but, so far, the kids seem to like it.

What is this amazing new technology?

It’s called walking to school. Walking is back.

There are all sorts of good reasons why children should walk to school, like good health, but I like the environmental and tax reasons: fewer cars on the road and less money spent on fuel for buses.

You know what I’m talking about. Have you tried to drive by any local school during the drop-off or pick-up rush hours? It’s like NASCAR with mini-vans.

I first noticed it one morning four years ago as I drove to the University of Wisconsin-Washington County along Chestnut Street past McLane Elementary School. The place was grid-locked with kids clambering out of cars. That day marked my passage into middle age because my first thought was: “Shoot, when I was a kid we had to walk to school!” The voice in my head was my grandfather’s. Age happens.

But Pop was right. Kids should walk to school.

Here’s how bad it’s gotten:

In 1969, 87 percent of kids 5 to 18 who lived within one mile of school walked or bicycled to school.

In 2001, only 63 percent of those kids walked or bicycled to school.

Why don’t they walk as often anymore?

Surveys suggest two major reasons parents drive their kids to school: they worry about traffic and they worry about what experts call “stranger danger,” the fear that a child might be snatched off the street by stranger. The statistical realities throw these concerns into clearer relief.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 50 percent of all kids hit by cars near schools are hit by vehicles driven by the parents of other students. In Marin County, Calif., researchers found that 30 percent of all morning traffic is caused by parents driving their kids to school.

“Stranger danger,” something that saturated the media throughout the early ’90s, was uncommon then and is even rarer today. The number of kids kidnapped by strangers nationwide was 200 in 1988 and, by 2002, fell to 115. Statistics won’t make a parent feel better about their own children, but there are solutions that address both of these concerns.

This radical innovation in walking to school simply involves finding new, safer ways to get kids from doorstep to school room. The movement started in Britain with something called a Walking Bus.

Volunteers would lead a group of walkers along secure routes to school. Kids wait with their parents at “Walking Bus Stops” and then join in as the “bus” goes by. Parents can volunteer or walk along. At the end of the day, the process is reversed. Everyone gets to school, everyone gets some much needed exercise and, apparently, everyone enjoys the experience.

Personally, walking or riding my bike to school was my favorite part of a school day. How else is a kid supposed to stop and throw rocks in the river or watch ants on the sidewalk?

In the United States, these programs are called Safe Routes to School, or SRTS and, since August 2005, have been funded under the federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (or SAFETEA-LU).

The idea is to encourage children between kindergarten and eighth grade to walk or bike to school by creating safe walking and biking routes. Wisconsin received $2,499,641 in federal funding for such programs in 2008 and kids are now walking across the state.

The West Bend School District is just beginning to explore the use of SRTS to offset transportation costs and to improve the health of the kids – and our local environment. Any questions, check out Click in and check out the Wisconsin programs.

Imagine, walking to school is good for kids, good for the taxpayer and good for the environment.

This year on Earth Day, think about giving your mother a break: Walk your kids to school. Me, I’m riding my bike.

Even if it rains, I'm thinkin'.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

The happy consequences of saying yes. West Bend's 2009 School referendum

Hi everyone,

The referendum worked out okay. The citizenry decided to head off what could have been a spectacular law suit by voting to repair Badger Middle School -- which has been out of compliance with the ADA for ... well, forever.

Where's the beet pollen when you need some?

Anyway, Saturday's happy column.

The happy consequences of saying yes

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard on Tuesday’s referendum. You saved Badger Middle school, one of the most important landmarks in West Bend and a part of our history.

The people who built the original Badger in the years leading up to the Depression gladly sacrificed for their kids, despite tough times. That’s exactly what voters in West Bend’s School District began to do this past Tuesday. Progress works when we all work together.

Those who worked to pass this referendum were a perfect post-partisan storm of people from across the political spectrum. In this case, they represented the best kind of politics: the kind that begins with the needs of children – for my money, the only sensible ground for any and all politics.

Who were these folks? Remember those mysterious house parties that a few of our local bloggers, and even a couple of media celebrities, found threatening enough to suggest “the authorities” should “monitor them”? I went to a couple. I guess neighbors inviting each other over for cake and coffee to talk about a school referendum may sound revolutionary to some people but, to me, it sounded like fun. When people start talking with each other they discover they have a lot in common – like their kids. The parties I went to included both working and full time moms, a bank teller, a real estate agent, a professional HVAC technician, people who owned their own small businesses, members of the Chamber of Commerce and more than a few life-long Republicans who gave me some good natured ribbing about my columns. They were great and everyone made new friends. I guess that’s revolutionary.

Some wonderful people worked on the campaign but, more importantly, they helped more voters than ever say “yes” to progress last Tuesday. The first referendum question, addressed to taking the strain off our over-crowded classrooms, didn’t quite make it – but here is an interesting number: in the city of West Bend 3,433 people voted yes and only 3,470 said no. Within the city of West Bend then, question No. 1 only needed 19 more votes to be successful. That was a closer vote than ever.

The district will still have to move eighth-graders into the high school(s) now, and start running split shifts – I’m glad I’m not one of the parents who will have to drive their kids to school at 6 a.m. or go pick them up at 6 p.m., depending on their shift – but the next referendum should take the uncertainty and inconvenience out of our schools situation and make things easier for everyone.

That was Question No. 1.

On Question No. 2, a majority of all voters said yes and saved Badger.

Good stories fuel campaigns. Three of my favorites came from kids at Badger.

1) One of the kids joked that the cracks in the foundation at Badger were moving faster than the School Board.

2) One student was able to (successfully!) complain that mice had eaten her backpack – and her homework – in their locker at Badger. Once construction is complete, she’ll have to go back to “my dog ate my homework” (or, more likely these days, “the computer ate my homework.”)

3) There was also the young man who broke his leg and couldn’t navigate the 45,000 levels of Badger’s interior obstacle course with his leg in a cast. He had to transfer out and finish the year away from his friends. Once Badger is up to federal code, no kid will get pulled from his friends because of a twisted ankle or wheel chair.

OK, one more. Let me mention a story that embodies the success of this campaign. On the last night of calling school supporters, I dialed a wrong number and wound up listening to a wonderful lady down in Jackson explain why she was voting for the referendum. “Do you have kids in the district?” I asked her. “Oh no, not any more” she said. Then she got dead serious and I heard a slight quaver in her voice, “but someone paid so that my kids could go through school here – now it’s my turn.”

That brave woman and all the other voters who courageously said yes during tough economic times can take pride in making Badger safe for another generation.

Next time we can do even more.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Porn in the Library! West Bend Society for the Suppression of Vice Battles On

Hi everyone,

"Busy busy busy," as the Bokononists say.

Saturday's column in the WB Daily News.

West Bend Society for the Suppression of Vice Battles On

West Bend News, Saturday, April 4, 2009

The originally scheduled West Bend Community Memorial Library meeting was cancelled by the Fire Department because too many people turned out? How great is that. We should be proud of ourselves. But we’re not done yet.

A previous column discussed the constitutional difficulty of removing books from libraries on religious or moral grounds. Since then the original complaint has shi fted a bit, so here we are again.

From what I read in the paper, the original complaint asked the library to remove all books from the Out of the Closet category on its Web site and that the books listed there be reclassified as adult material. Since then, the complainant has apparently said she doesn’t want all the books banned, but is asking that two of them be removed because the language is “pornographic.”

The slipperiness of the complaint is not surprising. My suspicion is that they discovered their original complaint was unconstitutional and are now fishing around for something that’ll pass legal muster.

The new complaint seems to be that the library material is pornographic. The news m edia immediately adopted this language asking, breathlessly “Should the library ban pornography?”

There never was any question whether the library would “allow” pornographic materials. They don’t. The question is whether it is possible to find a definition of pornography everyone can agree on. So far, whether in the Supreme Court or in West Bend, agreement has not appeared.

Back in 1964, while trying to provide a sound legal definition of pornography, Justice Potter Stewart famously remarked, “I know it when I see it.” I know it when I see it too, but I don’t believe my definition of pornography should be imposed on everyone else.

Personally, I like James Joyce’s definition. Ironically, his “Ulysses,” arguably the most important book in English in the last 150 years, was considered so pornographic that a group called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was formed in 1920 to keep the book out of the United States. Their pressure tactics succeeded until a district court ruled against them in 1933 and allowed “Ulysses” into the country.

Joyce defined pornography as any expression that inspires a desire in the observer to possess the object. It’s a broad definition with interesting consequences. It covers typical bachelor party pornography but also includes advertising – since all advertising is designed to inspi re desire – and probably “Entertainment Tonight” and Rush Limbaugh, both of which inspire a desire to possess a particular kind of life: one, rich and famous and, the other, a nostalgia-world America in which the poor are to blame for their circumstances and government is the only thing standing between me and prosperity. A lot of entertainment and political punditry seems to fall into that category, but I don’t think we’ll be able to ban it.

Anyway, the problem isn’t that we don’t know porn when we see it – everyone does. It’s just that everyone draws the line a bit differently. In Afghanistan under the Taliban, the sight o f a woman’s ankle was pornographic. Women stepping outside without their burkas could be stoned to death. That was Kabul. What about West Bend?

Our community standards count, too. In 1973, the Chief Justice Burger’s Supreme Court ruled that something could be considered obscene when the average person applying community standards would find that, taken as a whole, the work appeals to a prurient interest. To be considered prurient something must appeal to “shameful or morbid interests” in sex but this does not include anything that incites “normal lust.” So, if the complaint can establish that the library’s Web site appeals to shameful and morbid interests, beyond inciting “normal lust,” then it’s got to go. But if it s imply incites “normal lust,” then it’s protected.

You can see how slippery these terms are – which is why complaints about pornography seldom survive into the court system.

Forgetting all the definitions for a moment, common sense provides all the answers we need. The group protesting these books at the library is entitled to decide what their children should and shouldn’t read – but they don’t get to decide for everyone else. If we allow the fundamentalist religious, or political, beliefs of any one group to determine our reading lists, then there is nothing to separate us from the Taliban.

And so it goes.

More as things ... well, I was going to say 'develop' but somehow that strikes me as the wrong word.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Election roundup... Koschnick, Fernandez, and Harding, Oh My!

Hi everyone,

A threesome of Ripley's weirdness. Believe it or not!

1) A Supreme court candidate who was a public defender but is running as a staunch conservative -- btw, how does that make any sense? maybe that's why the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Special Forces Units are sitting this one out? -- and who said: "I personally do not believe that hate crime legislation is proper."

2) The DPI candidate who wants to drain tax dollars out of the public schools and into the pockets of a for-profit, Virginia-based (K-12,Inc.) corporation that provides cirriculum to virtual schools which, according to their SEC prospectus, anticipated $5 million in revenue from Wisconsin taxpayers. I guess she doesn't think we need the money here at home.

and finally

3) The Mayoral Candidate in Racine who "supports taking away people's right to vote if they're on welfare or receiving other forms of government subsidies."

It just goes to show you, reality is infinitely weirder than anything you could ever make up.