Monday, August 31, 2009

Glenn Grothman: wrong on campaign finance reform.

Hi everyone,

Glenn doesn't think there's a problem with how we elect judges. He does, of course, whenever a judge he doesn't like gets elected... but lately, it's mainly been happy time for Glenn.

In the meantime, from the Superior Telegram: Campaign finance reform needed, but will it happen?
Then there was Sen. Glen Grothman, R-West Bend, who claimed none of his constituents thought the high court was corrupt and asked for examples. It was like he was calling Kreitlow’s concerns blasphemy, even treason!

That was the first moment I realized Grothman has such high self-regard that he actually thinks we will believe the nonsense he spouts. I was wondering who paid Grothman to speak in favor of the status quo.

Kreitlow’s response was sublime: He evenly mentioned that in many cases justices have been asked to recuse themselves because of campaign contributions from parties involved in a case coming before the court.

I know of more than a few of his constituents who believe there's a problem.... but apparently none of them are constituents who matter to him.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Back-breaking back to school supplies.

Hi everyone,

Missed Saturday because the editorial staff at the paper was on vacation. :^)

I'm pretty sure I won't have a column this weekend (conference paper and preparing for the semester eating up spare time) or next weekend... unless I go berserk about Glenn Beck. It could happen.

In any event, Saturday's column.

Back-breaking back to school lists

A friend of mine who is sending her sixth-grader back to school in Hartford this month was so exasperated by the long list of school supplies that she posted it to Facebook followed by 17 exclamation points. A lot of parents must be experiencing the same shock – not just at the cost but at the sheer weight kids are nowadays required to carry around.

I stopped at a local Giant Box Store to price it out.

I did hit the sale aisle, but I have no doubt that an intrepid parent with several children would do better. My total came out to $56, rounded off to the nearest dollar.

Here’s the list: 2 packs, lined 3x5 index cards (100 pk). Big eraser. 6 prong pocket folders. 10 Elmer’s glue sticks. 4 highlighters (different colors). 10 spiral, wide-ruled notebooks (70 pg) 4 red, 3 yellow, 1 green, 2 blue. 3 packs of wide-ruled loose leaf paper (200 ct.). Black or blue pens (at least 2) and a Red correcting pen. 24 #2 pencils (can be mechanical). 2 sets colored pencils (12 ct.). 12-inch metric/standard ruler. 1 pack graph paper (1/4 inch). 1 small pencil sharpener. 1 roll Scotch tape. Pencil box or pouch. 6” protractor, to be kept at home for Math. 1 – 1 1/2-inch 3-ring binder (Science). 1 – 1 1/2-inch 3-ring binder (Math). Scissors. 2 boxes Kleenex (Homeroom). 2 bottles (8 oz. each) of instant hand sanitizer with at least 62 percent ethyl alcohol content. Composition notebook or bring $1 (Reading). Crayola Markers (fine/broad).

I’ll restrict myself to two observations. 1.) I managed to get all the way through graduate school without once using a highlighter. Highlighters are the book-equivalent of spray-paint graffiti tagging: rarely intellectually or even aesthetically useful. I know, I’m turning into a curmudgeon. 2.) I’m also trying to imagine sixth-graders using 600 pages of notebook paper in one year – especially with the advent of computer instruction.

OK. 3.) 10 glue sticks?

But this is just me wondering. I was taught in classrooms that used one piece of rock to scratch letters on another piece of rock (chalk on slate). Times change, but I do miss that chalk.

But something else seems to have changed, and not for the better. Have you noticed that each year the kids seem to be carrying bigger and bigger backpacks? Some kids are carrying backpacks as big as they are. They look like little sherpas heading up Everest.

I didn’t weigh a backpack full of school supplies, but other people have. The most telling thing I can pass along is this: there is now a medical literature about backpack caused back pain in school kids.


Here are the grisly details: a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study found that more than 75 percent of students ages 8-12 now suffer from increasing back pain caused by schlepping around their school backpacks. In 2001 alone, 7,000 children went to U.S. emergency rooms for backpackrelated injuries. A Consumer Reports study found that sixthgraders were carrying backpacks that weighed, on average, 18.4 pounds – but it wasn’t surprising to find kids carrying as much as 30 pounds. How could this happen? Here’s one part of the answer: a 2003 report by Texas A&M University System Health Science Center College of Medicine found that 96 percent of parents had never checked the weight of their child’s backpack; 34 percent had never even checked the contents.

So, take it to heart and, while you’re packing their lunches, remember that your kids are already carrying the future. Help them out. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school backpacks should never weigh more than 20 percent of your child’s total body weight.

I did ask one of my teacher/neighbors, who doesn’t teach in Hartford, about the list. She wasn’t sure about all of the details, but the suggested supply that made the most sense to her was the one for 24 pencils. “They’ll lose most of those in the first month,” she sighed. “Of course,” I said. Even at the university we run into a student or two on the first day who earnestly raises a hand and asks “do you have an extra pencil?”

Note to this year’s college freshmen: Don’t carry more than 20 percent of your body weight in school supplies and, please, don’t ask for a pencil the first day.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Right-Wing Turncoat Gives the Inside Scoop on Why Conservatives Are Rampaging Town Halls

Hi everyone,

About what you'd expect.

Right-Wing Turncoat Gives the Inside Scoop on Why Conservatives Are Rampaging Town Halls

An excerpt:
The Lobbyist-run Groups "Americans for Prosperity " and "FreedomWorks/ Dick Armey-Orchestrated Memo:

Here is a leaked excerpt from the folks organizing the intimidation campaign:

- Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: "Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington."

- Be Disruptive Early And Often: "You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early."

- Try To "Rattle Him," Not Have An Intelligent Debate: "The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions."

And sorry to be a little rough, but for those of you who remember Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks summarized the underlying cause of the extreme Right Wing's emotional turmoil.

I just don't think those old boys from Texas are able to think straight, seeing as how things are what they is.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

West Bend Resident arrested in peace protest?

Hi everyone,

My google alerts picked this off a few days late, but our own Tom Haebig of West Bend was arrested for trespassing out at Ft. McCoy.

Proud to know you Tom!

Adopt Resistance: Nine Arrested at End of 3 Day Peace Walk to Fort McCoy:


An uncivil tongue: entertaining us to death.

Hi everyone,

This actually got started because I read the pamphlet Glenn Beck wrote (sic) and attached to the front of Tom Paine's Common Sense. What was startling was not that Beck was prurient in his appeals to McCarthistic nostalgia -- you just expect that by now -- but that he hadn't read Tom Paine carefully or, I suspect, at all.

I thought, what kind of a moron does that?

Well, I eventually realized that this is an unfair characterization. Beck is not really a moron, he's simply an entertainer.

Extrapolate from there. :^)

Saturday's column.

Why talk when you can SHOUT?

A lot of people have been staging political theater at town meetings across the country during the last few weeks – even up in Kewaunee where Rep. Kagen had a tough time answering questions over endless interruptions. Why would people show up at a meeting and then not listen to the answers? Because they aren’t really interested in answers. Their real task is to create endless distraction.

One of the more outspoken opponents at the meeting, who quietly identified herself as a “mom,” was actually a former vice-chairman of the Kewaunee County Republican Party and had worked on John Gard’s campaign. To her credit, Ms. Blish claims she is no longer a member of the Republican Party.

This got me thinking about the nature of current political discourse, the civic and civil conversation we have to have with each other in order to make a democracy work. More and more it seems that people don’t want to have that conversation anymore.

That’s because the function of political talk these days, increasingly, as Rush Limbaugh himself explained, is merely to “entertain.” The escalating vitriol and shrieking style is not about elucidating political and social issues, but about ratings. Angry self-righteous American Mullahs are more engaging, and profitable, than civil and concentrated political discourse. Anger always out-sells facts. Passions, right or wrong, always outsell understanding. Sizzle always out-sells good steaks and entertainment always outsells reality. Never forget this.

Fox News is a great example. Liberals like to say that Fox News (sic) has a conservative agenda because Rupert Murdoch is politically conservative but this assessment is near-sighted. Stop and think for a moment: the Fox Network makes most of it’s money from its News division and from shows like “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” Is it remotely possible to imagine that “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad” are socially, morally or politically conservative? Nope.

But then, if their ideology is all over the place, what’s the real agenda of Fox?

Profit. Of course.

They make money by appealing to whatever will keep viewers glued to the screen, whether it’s Homer Simpson or Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, like Rush, are merely entertainers masquerading as political commentators and their political patter is nothing but a pornographic minstrel show all done up in white face to keep us watching. The truth is, even I can’t turn them off – and for the same reason it’s hard to stop watching a Jerry Springer show once you accidentally stray into one. You never know when a fight will break out and you’re always curious to see just how far they’ll let things go – this time.

And they always let things go further. Always.

Think about it: What bumps ratings into the stratosphere? Complex conversations about intractable political issues that strike at our deepest assumptions about America? Or infomercial-slick howlers shot from the hip of Jerry Springer wannabes who have a knack for titillating audiences with a strip tease of “what outrageous thing will he say next?”

When Glenn Beck calls the first African-American President a racist you wonder what he’ll say next. How about “Obama is an Islamic Terrorist”? Hm Already used that one. How about “Obama’s not an American citizen!” Nah, used that last week. “We’re on the road to a Communist dictatorship like Soviet Russia!” Nuts, used that during the election. How about “Obama isn’t sneaking cigarettes, he’s actually a high-functioning crack addict.”? Not bad.

Anyway, don’t worry: They’ll think of something. Maybe security will have to start throwing people off the stage.

All of this uncivil, shrieking, political theater is, after all, only an entertainment. The authors of those anonymous e-mails that claim Obama wants to kill your grandma? Entertainers. The people interrupting civic conversations at the town meetings? Entertainers. Face it, these days William F. Buckley wouldn’t get 10 seconds of air time on Fox.

But there’s a price for all of this: The social impact of all of these entertainers is not in the content of anything they say – since the their comments aren’t even well formed enough to count as lies – but in the distraction it’s causing and this distraction keeps us from the most important task in a democracy: digging through governmental obfuscation (whether Congressional, Executive, or Judicial) to find the truth.

So what do we do about all this shouting? Here’s how we start: turn off the TV, put on the coffee and start talking with – not at – each other.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A reader responds to the Bible as most dangerous book column

Hi everyone,

I thought it'd be useful to post one of these letters that came in to the Daily News regarding my column suggesting the fundamentalists hadn't gone far enough in their book banning.

Marsha Wranovsky of Campbellsport wrote in.

Not the most dangerous book

Mr. Peterson, today I read your July 25 column, “Overlooking library’s most dangerous book?” At first I felt anger, even outrage, that what I believe and base my life on could be so disrespected and misunderstood. I really wanted to give you a piece of my mind. But then I thought, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus tells us to speak the truth in love.

Then I thought of Jesus’ words as he was dying on the cross. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34. You must remember that He is praying for the people who just scourged Him with a whip that had many sharp pieces on the end that tore the flesh from His body, who spat on Him and mocked Him, who pounded a crown of thorns on His head and nails through His hands. This God who spoke the world into being, set His power and glory aside, humbled Himself and died on a cross for the sins of you and me. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Mr. Peterson, the Bible isn’t the most dangerous book. It’s an awesome love story, and God loves you. I hope and pray that some day you will know that love.

Marsha Wranovsky Campbellsport

I suppose the scariest thing is that we now live in a country where perfectly nice people like Ms. Wranovsky here couldn't tell that I was providing an example of the very censorship our local fundamentalists are promoting.

But Ms. Wranovsky, the Bible is the most dangerous book to the status quo, to the entrenched power that oppresses the folks at the bottom of the economic and political ladder -- it offers hope and a reminder that, finally, it isn't power and money that matter in life, but love and compassion. That's the most dangerous idea of all. :^)


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Driving while texting: the new DUI

Hi everyone,

720 words barely starts to cover how scary the numbers are. Study after study on distracted driving suggests it's as dangerous as drinking and driving... plus, I've been amazed, just in the past month, how many lousy drivers I've had to dodge because they're yakking away without paying attention. Anyway, I came up with a little psychological trick that's been giving me a chuckle... included at the end.

Saturday's column.

Driving while texting: The new DUI

You’ve seen them, too.

A sleek black SUV wobbles in its lane. You pull up along side. The driver is a multitasking commuter balancing his phone, a tall stainless steel travel mug of coffee and, maybe, even a spreadsheet from work while steering with one knee.

Or what about that lady in front of you, review mirror bent down to allow a careful application of lipstick, on the phone, yakking faster than she’s driving, and paying no attention to the reef of red brake lights looming ahead.

Once, just outside of Fond du Lac, I passed a driver who was watching a video on his iPod.

How many of these people did you see – today?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) collected data suggesting that, at any time during daylight hours in 2007, 11 percent of all drivers – around 1.8 million people – were using cell phones. I almost rear-ended one of them a few weeks ago.

While navigating late afternoon traffic through the Zoo Interchange, I found myself behind a slow moving Saab weaving back and forth in his lane as we merged from I-894 onto northbound Highway 45. I remember thinking it was a bit too early in the day to find a drunk driver but, then, this is Wisconsin. We have the dumbest drunk driving laws in the country. So I waited until he’d settled down a bit and accelerated to pass.

I glanced into the car as I went by. He wasn’t drunk. He was texting. He had a cup of coffee in his right hand and his cell phone in the left, texting with his left thumb. At 50 mph. On a twisty and busy onramp.

I couldn’t stop myself: I honked my horn to wake him up. Just that friendly little double-tap “hey how’s it going” kind of honk. He bobbled his coffee, startled back into consciousness, looked up irritated and flipped me off. Of course. But once his attention was restored, he jerked that 3,000 pounds of Swedish steel and glass back into his own lane amazingly fast.

I called the State Patrol afterward to ask about the legality of honking at obviously impaired drivers, but they never got back to me. Look, if I pull up to a car that’s weaving and I see the driver nodding off, I’m going to honk to wake them up. Most drunk or sleepy drivers (unless they’re repeat offenders) don’t even realize they’re impaired when they get behind the wheel – neither do cell phone yakkers.

The numbers tell the story.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that “cellphone distraction caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.” An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study, using crash data and cell phone records, found that “cell phone users are four times as likely to have injury crashes.” The risk remained the same for both handheld and hands-free phones. A 2006 study by the University of Utah found that drivers using cell phones are as impaired as those who blow a blood-alcohol level of .08 – over the limit in most states.

Talking is bad. Texting is worse. Initial findings from a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study showed that the collision risk for drivers while was 23 times higher than when they weren’t texting.

We haven’t done anything about this problem, even though the NHTSA has documented studies dating back to 1990. About 170 bills designed to address distracted driving were introduced in state legislatures last year, but fewer than 10 were passed. Minnesota and Illinois both have legal restrictions placed on cell phone use (school bus drivers, for instance, are barred from using cell phones while working). Not us. In Wisconsin, only Glendale and Marshfield have enacted municipal ordinances banning driver cell phone use.

While we wait for the politicians to catch up, here’s something you can do to amuse yourself. Next time you drive by someone engrossed in a conversation on their cell phone, use your imagination to replace their cell phone with a frosty bottle of beer. Can you see it? That starts to provide the right mental picture of their state of mind. And for those of you who still chose to yakyak while you drive: next time you answer your cell phone on the interstate, or decide to call a friend because you’re bored, imagine you’ve just cracked open a cold one and are now sneaking a quick chug. What could it hurt?

Update: I was contacted by the State Patrol and just didn't get their comments in time. The nice officer reminded me that honking is discouraged -- since it can cause accidents if you're not careful -- but, if someone sways into your lane, you have a perfect right to alert them. The best course of action, he suggested, as always, is to drive defensively.

My thanks to the nice folks at the Wisconsin State Patrol.


Monday, August 03, 2009

Health care: but what's in it for me?

Hi everyone,

For those of us in the 5th Congressional District of Wisconsin here's the sampler from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce:

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act would provide significant benefits in the 5th Congressional District of Wisconsin: up to 17,400 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 12,300 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,300 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $92 million in uncompensated care each year; and 22,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance. Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. represents the district.

• Help for small businesses. Under the legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less and average wages of less than $40,000 qualify for tax credits of up to 50% of the costs of providing health insurance. There are up to 17,400 small businesses in the district that could qualify for these credits.

• Help for seniors with drug costs in the Part D donut hole. Each year, 12,300 seniors in the district hit the donut hole and are forced to pay their full drug costs, despite having Part D drug coverage. The legislation would provide them with immediate relief, cutting brand name drug costs in the donut hole by 50%, and ultimately eliminate the donut hole.

• Health care and financial security. There were 1,300 health care-related bankruptcies in the district in 2008, caused primarily by the health care costs not covered by insurance. The bill provides health insurance for almost every American and caps annual out-of-pocket costs at $10,000 per year, ensuring that no citizen will have to face financial ruin because of high health care costs.

• Relieving the burden of uncompensated care for hospitals and health care providers. In 2008, health care providers in the district provided $92 million worth of uncompensated care, care that was provided to individuals who lacked insurance coverage and were unable to pay their bills. Under the legislation, these costs of uncompensated care would be virtually eliminated.

• Coverage of the uninsured. There are 43,000 uninsured individuals in the district, 6% of the district. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that nationwide, 97% of all Americans will have insurance coverage when the bill takes effect. If this benchmark is reached in the district, 22,000 people who currently do not have health insurance will receive coverage.

• No deficit spending. The cost of health care reform under the legislation is fully paid for: half through making the Medicare and Medicaid program more efficient and half through a surtax on the income of the wealthiest individuals. This surtax would affect only 7,580 households in the district. The surtax would not affect 97.9% of taxpayers in the district.

For the rest of the country, please click here to find your district.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

A reminder: the Dirty Effing Hippies were right.

From YouTube.

In deference to the Maziarka's, no one under 18 should watch this... unless they'd like a message from the people they were 35 years ago.

Greed is still the central problem. Take care of that and everything else falls into place.

And for those now over 30, brimming with the self-righteous indignation of Christianity on a full stomach, you'll have to figure out whether Abby Hoffman was right about us.


Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Health Care Debate: scrubbing decks on the Titanic.

Hi everyone,

Nobody likes taking their medicine, and I'm afraid America will simply refuse to get better.

Saturday's column.

Devising health care for us all

System’s too profitable, for some, to change

The Health Care Debate is starting to sound more and more like the opening of a Twilight Zone episode. You know it’s going to be scary even before it starts. Then Rod Serling’s voice says, “For your consideration: 47 million Americans live without health insurance.”

Between 1975 and 2005, health expenditures grew 2.79 percent per year faster than the rest of the economy. Premiums for family health care coverage have increased 78 percent since 2001. Despite this increase in costs, service is worse: Americans now lag behind the rest of the developing world in both longevity and even infant mortality.

Something has to change.

My colleagues on the Opinion page have weighed in on health care, all rushing to endorse some version of a free-market approach. John Torinus who, alone among these commentators, has a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of economics to make sense of the tangle of stakeholders and profit centers (he’s clearly read Stiglitz as well as Friedman) provides the best freemarket option by asking for transparency in cost structures. If consumers and businesses had a clear understanding of the actual costs, customers could make informed choices and, thus, the market would respond by providing the lowest price.

It’s a good idea, but it’s only a temporary solution. The real problem in health care is the system itself: in other words, scrubbing decks on the Titanic won’t help much with that inbound iceberg.

The free-market created a health insurance system incentivized to make money when it doesn’t have to pay for your health care. As Physicians for a National Health Program point out: “This creates the paradox of a health care system based on avoiding the sick.”

Instead of treating health care like another commodity, like pork bellies or orange juice – a thing to be traded for profit – we need to start thinking of health care as social infrastructure. Health care, in other words, should be no different from interstate highways or dams on the Mississippi river and the most cost-effective approach is a single-payer health care system.

Those opposed are likely to lose a lot of money, and they have ginned up a powerful disinformation campaign. Here’s a quick look at the usual complaints:

  • A national single-payer system is socialist.

If true, then we’re already a socialist country. Over half of all current health spending in the United States is financed by taxpayers at the federal, state, and local level.

  • Government is notoriously inefficient.

Surprisingly, not true. Thirty-one percent of current health spending is spent on administration. Medicare, by contrast, operates with just 3 percent overhead. Canadian provincial health care averages even lower at around 1 percent – and Canadian life expectancy is two years longer than ours. Recent estimates in the International Journal of Health Services indicate that the United States spends between 50 and 100 percent more on administration for health care than countries with single-payer systems.

Moreover, both the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office have reports going back to 1991 indicating that moving to a single-payer system would save enough from waste alone to pay for those not insured.

  • We’ll have to ration care.

Care is already rationed. Most of us with insurance don’t get to pick our own doctor and we still have long waits for necessary tests and services. But rationing can be even more insidious. Insurers ration health care by making it too expensive for many people to afford and then shift those costs to the taxpayer – who pays emergency care rates (the most expensive kind) for these folks when they seek treatment at the last moment. Frankly, insurance with a $3,000 annual deductible is no insurance at all. Here’s what rationing really looks like: 25 percent of Americans didn’t go to the doctor last year when they needed to because they didn’t have the money. In Canada, the rate was only 4 to 5 percent, in Britain 2 to 3 percent.

Single-payer is our best, most economically responsible and prudent option, but – and here’s the Twilight Zone ending – we probably aren’t going to get it. The fact that both the pharmaceutical lobby and AARP support the plan currently under construction in Congress tells me it’s already been compromised. We’re destined for more of the same.

I can only hope that Mr. Obama understands this and that the so-called “public option” still on the table, will be a first step toward a more efficient, and maybe even just, health care system for all Americans.