Thursday, December 30, 2010

A reader disagrees about accepting back $800million in rail development tax dollars.

A regular contributor to the letters to the editor section of the Daily News, Mr. Schmiege disagreed with me when I suggested we should have let the feds give Wisconsin back $800 million of our own tax dollars.

All jobs are not created equal

University of Wisconsin-Washington County philosophy professor Mark Peterson doesn’t get it. In his recent editorial he blasted yet-to-be Gov. Scott Walker for killing the train that would have connected Milwaukee and Madison, rejecting $800 million of “our money” from the feds and eliminating the potential for 13,000 jobs (9,570 permanent).

At least, Peterson tacitly admitted that the train was a make-work project. He didn’t talk about the few riders who would be spending over $100 a day to ride the train, subsidized by every Jim and Jane in Wisconsin, and perhaps beyond. He didn’t talk about the $3 billion deficit facing Walker and the state, or the $2 trillion federal deficit. No, he is all for spreading the wealth or debt, as it were, no matter what it costs in real, useful jobs.

The classic take-away from the professor’s piece is this, ‘What’s wrong with a make-work project?” and “Do we think the jobs are real only if the business community ... creates them?”

A job is a job, but not all jobs are created equal. Jobs that produce no genuine benefit tend to go away under capitalism – as they should. Not so under socialism. We usually have to add to them.

In the train case, the money is going to other states. It’s too bad all states don’t reject federal exploitation. Perhaps the federal budget could be balanced, and the money could be kept in the states.

Mark takes potshots at corporations that “exported Wisconsin jobs” and won’t pay “wages that once-upona-time created the American Middle Class.” He doesn’t understand that wage rates depend upon what people are willing to pay for products and services. He may as well blame you for not paying more for your Christmas purchases. Government has more responsibility for exporting jobs than do corporations.

Monte Schmiege, West Bend

What's most interesting to me here is that Mr. Schmiege may well be the only person in Washington County who actually addresses me by my professional titles... which is nice, but I think he's being sarcastic, I can't tell.

Regardless, thank you once again Mr. Schmiege for your observations.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Are Right-Wing Libertarian Internet Trolls Getting Paid to Dumb Down Online Conversations?

Or are they doing it to amuse themselves while eroding civil discourse? :^)

Are Right-Wing Libertarian Internet Trolls Getting Paid to Dumb Down Online Conversations? | Media | AlterNet

"Articles about the environment are hit harder by such tactics than any others. I love debate, and I often wade into the threads beneath my columns. But it’s a depressing experience, as instead of contesting the issues I raise, many of those who disagree bombard me with infantile abuse, or just keep repeating a fiction, however often you discredit it. This ensures that an intelligent discussion is almost impossible - which appears to be the point."

Not that this sort of thing happens here. ;^)


Fox report: Favre to be fined, not suspended - JSOnline

Fox report: Favre to be fined, not suspended - JSOnline

Why the Tax Deal Confirms the Republican Worldview

Why the Tax Deal Confirms the Republican Worldview | TPMCafe

Americans want to know what happened to the economy and how to fix it. At least Republicans have a story - the same one they've been flogging for thirty years. The bad economy is big government's fault and the solution is to shrink government.

Here's the real story. For three decades, an increasing share of the benefits of economic growth have gone to the top 1 percent. Thirty years ago, the top got 9 percent of total income. Not they take in almost a quarter. Meanwhile, the earnings of the typical worker have barely budged.

The vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power to keep the economy going. (The rich spend a much lower portion of their incomes.) The crisis was averted before now only because middle-class families found ways to keep spending more than they took in - by women going into paid work, by working longer hours, and finally by using their homes as collateral to borrow. But when the housing bubble burst, the game was up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tea Party's true colors. That was fast.

Maine's Incoming Teabagger Gov Gives Own Daughter A $41K Job | Crooks and Liars

590,000 Republican Lies About Public Employees | Crooks and Liars

590,000 Republican Lies About Public Employees | Crooks and Liars

The government is now impeding an economic recovery. But it's not for the reasons you often hear...It's because, at the state and local level, it's firing people...Consider this: If we only counted private-sector jobs, we'd have had positive jobs reports for the last nine months. As it is, public-sector losses have wiped out private-sector gains for the past four months.

Delusional GOP Poses Serious Threat to America

The craziness continues.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Self-made American myth #2: Who makes $250K?

Self-made American myth #2: Who makes $250K? | political madness

Any idea what proportion of American families make more than $250,000 a year? Or, to potentially make it easier, any idea what proportion of families in your state make more than $250,000 a year?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know—most people don’t. The actual number, nationwide is somewhere less than 3% of families earn more than $250,000 a year. What did the survey respondents say when asked this question? The average response was close to 17%!—meaning your typical survey respondent thinks that almost 1 in 5 families in America earn that kind of money, when the answer is closer to 1 in 50!

The REAL Reason Why the Tea Parties Were Stupid

The REAL Reason Why the Tea Parties Were Stupid « The Reality-Based Community

3 Reasons Right-Wing Lies About Joblessness Stick

Wow, because it turns out that Conservatives are the dreamy-eyed idealists.

I knew it.

3 Reasons Right-Wing Lies About Joblessness Stick | Economy | AlterNet

Of course, this story line makes no sense. From liberal Paul Krugman to archconservative Alan Greenspan, economists agree that joblessness is not caused by unemployment benefits. With five applicants for every job opening, the overarching problem is a lack of available positions—not a dearth of personal initiative.

Class Warfare Begins: Conservatives Want To Tax The Poor

Of course.

FreakOutNation » Class Warfare Begins: Conservatives Want To Tax The Poor

Friday, December 24, 2010

Stop the war on Santa!

Hi everyone,

I hope your winter holiday brings you everything you deserve.

This week's column.

Stop the war on Santa!

The so-called war against Christmas is a war against the past, but the war against Santa is a war against the present(s!).

The Santa-driven economy is strong but, in keeping with November’s national vote in favor of what Citibank has dubbed the new American Plutonomy, we need to be on guard against any backsliding. Money was crowned king in this last election and so, this year, we need to protect American profits by standing strong with Santa against the enemies of the Holiday Shopping Season – the most important economic institution of the fiscal year.

Our new corporate plutocrats, and their recently elected elves in Congress, have taken a patriotic stand against all those crazy sidebars to history: you know, stuff like social justice, remembering the poor, allowing sentimentality or even morals to intrude on the bottom line, and any regulations imposed on any company at any time.

While it’s true that the Holiday Shopping Season does include a few religious holidays and that these traditions are comforting in difficult times, remember: a wise manager knows you can’t run an economy on comfort or happiness. Plus, the Establishment Clause in the Constitution protects serious-minded business people from bleeding heart traditionalists who want to erode the season’s economic impact by placing religious or moral – or human – constraints on free trade.

Like giving workers a day off on Christmas, for instance. Why should Americans who want to improve their circumstances by working extra hours be locked out of their jobs by government red tape? Why should businesses have to sacrifice profits, the life blood of this country, for the sake of giving lazy employees a day to watch football and eat too much?

This nonsense has snuck into our national narrative. Consider the historical revisionism of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Over the past hundred years, sentimental intellectual-elitist theologians and their Hollywood-based co-conspirators – people who have never had to meet a payroll or pay taxes on capital gains – have done everything in their power to turn a beautiful novel, one in which Dickens documents the common sense application of free market economics, into some kind of morality play.

Look more carefully into the real character of Ebenezer Scrooge and you’ll be surprised to find that he’s not an amoral and miserly misanthrope; he’s a talented executive who understands how the real world works and protects his employees by protecting his profits. After a long night courageously fending off malicious ghosts who, one after another, attempt to convince him to abandon his fiscally sound economic commitments, he puts on a big spread for his family and then subsidizes Tiny Tim’s health-care package.

Let’s just cut to the chase: Would any of that Christmas morning joy have happened if Scrooge weren’t rich? The revisionists always get sanctimonious about Bob Cratchit having to work (gasp!) on Christmas but, as we all know, it’s the rich who create the jobs. Where would Bob Cratchit have been without Scrooge? Collecting lumps of coal along the railroad tracks in the dark of winter, that’s where. Without Scrooge he wouldn’t have had a job in the first place and, without that job, he never would have been able to support all those children and, most telling of all, without the good will and financial foresight of his boss – whose discipline and restraint allowed the invisible hand of the market to work the real magic in this story, the magic that guaranteed Mr. Cratchit a salary – Tiny Tim would have grown up lame and unable to work.

“A Christmas Carol” is not a story about the moral and spiritual dangers of greed – and the possibility of human redemption born out of compassion and charity. That’s just crazy talk. It’s about the miracle of trickledown economics, an economics that makes it possible to say “God bless us every one.” Saying “God bless us every one” is easy – creating jobs, that’s the heavy lifting.

This explains the recent, and valiant, efforts to curb unemployment benefits by fiscally responsible members of Congress. If you take the misery out of unemployment, people won’t be forced to take lower salaries which, after all, improve profit margins. Worst of all, if you take the misery out of life, then people would be happier and, as every Scrooge out there knows, what matters – the economy – isn’t interested in your happiness.

So while the narcotic blizzard of this Holiday Shopping Season swirls around your head, like egg nog and rum in a high speed blender, pay careful attention to where your true happiness lies – and to the lies that keep you from your true happiness.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reaganomics Redux

Merry Christmas everyone!

Reaganomics Redux

Since Ronald Reagan was president, median hourly wages have barely budged, and America's vast working and middle classes have taken home a steadily smaller share of the nation's income (adjusted for inflation). The typical male worker today is earning less than the typical male worker thirty years ago.

Yet the richest 1 percent of Americans is now taking home a larger percentage of the nation's income than at any time since 1928. And we recall what happened in 1929.

Governor-elect Walker needs better political "training"

Hi everyone,

Sorry about the terrible pun, but it looks like our next governor is going to make that sort of thing easy.

You might have seen it in the news, but the Feds pulled high-speed railroad development money from Wisconsin and Ohio last week. Our governor elect was opposed to taking federal money from the beginning of his campaign so, now that he's won, the feds said "okay" and moved the funds to the other states in the running.

Saturday's column

Gov.-elect needs political "training"

The best joke I’ve seen so far about Scott Walker’s job creation program is this one:

" I hear Scott Walker is already creating jobs – in Florida and California."

Except, of course, it’s no joke. Walker, who claimed that his election meant Wisconsin is open for business, has already managed to cost Wisconsin 13,000 jobs and he isn’t even governor yet. Pretty funny stuff.

Things have changed a lot since the last time we had a Republican governor. Try as I might, I cannot imagine Tommy Thompson, with whom I often disagreed but who’s actions I always understood, throwing away $800 million in relatively free federal funding. Tommy would have made the appropriate noises about wasteful Washington spending, and then put the interests of Wisconsin’s families first.

Here’s what Walker cost those families: 4,732 construction jobs and 9,570 permanent jobs after construction was completed. That’s about $173 million in wages Wisconsin families will never see now that Gov.-Elect Walker has stuck to his guns.

One of his complaints was that this railroad was another stupid government make-work project. Well, what’s wrong with a make-work project in a state where so many people are out of work? Is the problem that the feds are sponsoring it? Do we think the jobs are real only if the business community to creates them?

That hasn’t worked out very well. The manufacturing sector which once dominated our industries took their profits, exported Wisconsin jobs to China and now blames Wisconsin workers for wanting to earn the kind of wages that once-upon-a time created the American Middle Class.

Bad Middle Class. Who do you think you are anyway? Shut up and be grateful, you peasants.

While we wait for our economic leaders to, well, to start leading – which we can expect now that they’ve bought and paid for the legislature and governor’s office in Madison – why not accept a federally funded railroad? I mean, the tax dollars they were going to send us are, after all, OUR MONEY. Remember paying your taxes? Wouldn’t you have liked to see $810 million come back to Wisconsin?

Walker didn’t toss away someone else’s money – he gave away your money; and he gave it away to Illinois and Florida and California. I wonder if they’ll send a thank you note, or maybe a gift box with some of that California cheese I keep hearing about.

Walker did raise the question of how much this would cost the state in the long run – a good question and a surprising one coming from the party that has lately tied its economic yachts to the anchor of short-term profit. But, his true colors eventually showed themselves. Walker claimed this was a bad deal because operating expenses would stick the state for about $7.5 million a year after construction was finished.

This is disingenuous for at least two reasons: 1. $7.5 million works out to about four-tenths of one percent (0.4 percent) of the state’s $2.1 billion annual budget for transportation infrastructure and 2. federal subsidies – like the subsidy for the Hiawatha Line between Milwaukee and Chicago – would probably knock that down to $750,000 a year: three fewer zeros and less than it costs to operate the governor’s mansion. Frankly, that sounds like a pretty good deal – especially in a state with 7.8 percent unemployment (as of October 2010).

But Walker clearly isn’t interested in the long-term investment potential. Milwaukee already spent about $10 million to help set up Talgo, the Spanish company that came to Wisconsin (and brought real jobs with it) to build trains for this route. Talgo is now thinking about pulling up stakes and moving someplace where trains are wanted – a good business decision and one precipitated by a lousy political decision. This is one reason why Robert Kraig from Citizen Action of Wisconsin called Walker’s anti-job, anti-train position “economic treason.”

I’m afraid I have to disagree with Mr. Kraig on a technicality. For it to be treason, Mr. Walker would have had to lie about his intentions – he hasn’t. He claimed all along to be opposed to any investment in this railway project.

People voted him in with eyes wide open; it’s just that elections have consequences. Voters who were persuaded by the blitzkrieg of billionaire funded political infomercials for Republican “pro-job” candidates this fall shot themselves, and the state, in the foot. They elected a candidate who promised job creation and then found a way to eliminate 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin even before moving into the governor's mansion. California and Florida will be laughing all the way to their new train stations.

I never thought I’d say it but: Tommy, wherever you are, please phone home.

Turning down our own tax dollars because accepting them would be bad for us? Who's the Nanny now?


Friday, December 17, 2010

Glenn Beck Claims that Jesus Christ Opposed Social Justice

Oh, and here I thought that last one was the topper. Silly me.

Glenn Beck Claims that Jesus Christ Opposed Social Justice

Does this mean I only have to love the people who deserve it? -- or who can afford it?

House Republicans Block Child Marriage Prevention Act

So, over in the Senate they're blocking the 9/11 responders bill, they're thrilled about a judge blocking a provision in the new health care bill that Republicans inserted in the first place, and now the House Republicans are blocking a bill to help prevent child marriages.

Their owners must like lots of babies as new cheap labor.

House Republicans Block Child Marriage Prevention Act

9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster

More proof about what's really important to the current crop of Republicans.

9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 12/16/10 - Video Clip | Comedy Central

A preview of Saturday's column: Walker makes Wisconsin a new joke in CA.

Oh yeah. He did.

Wisconsin, Ohio and federal stimulus funds: California is happy to take your money -

Remarkably, the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio seem to have taken us up on an offer so disadvantageous that the most shameless infomercial producer would hesitate to promote it. After being awarded a combined $1.2 billion in stimulus money to build rail projects — $810 million for a train from Milwaukee to Madison in Wisconsin and $385 million for a rail line linking Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland in Ohio — the governors turned it down. Instead, it will be distributed to train projects in 13 other states, with California being the biggest single beneficiary.

Why would they do such a thing? Because it would cost taxpayer money to operate the rail lines after they're built. Scott Walker, Republican governor-elect of Wisconsin, fretted that his state's train would cost $7.5 million a year to operate. As train supporters pointed out to the New York Times, this is sort of like turning down a free car because you don't want to have to pay for gasoline and insurance. Not only did Walker and Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich, also a Republican, ignore the construction jobs the projects would have created, but they ignored the positive impact on their states' economies, freeways and environment that the trains would have brought to future generations.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hamilton on government.

For the Tea Partiers who think this is about money or morality.

‎''Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.'' Alexander Hamilton

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Pearl Harbor Day for American education?

Hi everyone,

Back after a couple of weeks buried underneath piles of grading and just in time for the ironically timed December 7th release of the OECD's report on education.

Oy veh.

Saturday's column

Dec. 7, 2010, a day that will live in infamy
We snooze on schools and lose footing to other nations

If you found out that America’s strategic position in the global marketplace had been eroded and that our future economic and political security was at stake, would you get out of bed and try to do something about it? Or would you ignore the bombs, hit the snooze alarm and roll over? Let’s find out.

Pearl Harbor Day isn’t just for memories any more. On Dec. 7 this year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comparing the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds across 70 countries.

The United States took a hit – and this time it was our own fault.

In reading, math, and science. the United States landed well behind Shanghai, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Slovenia. The United States is in the middle of the pack along with Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Portugal.

Yes, really. Slovenia.

The list starts to blur the urgency of the situation, so here’s a number to hang on to: Canadian 15-year-olds are more than a year ahead of U.S. 15-year-olds in math and more than half a year ahead in reading and science – and Canada was behind Shanghai.

What can we do?

Some of the survey results were fascinating. Charter schools – or private schools for that matter – won’t help. The numbers indicate private school student performance is statistically similar to public school students. Competition doesn’t produce significant statistical differences either.

One factor showed up in all countries with school systems that outperform United States: They pay their teachers excellent salaries. This won’t be a popular option these days. We spend proportionally less on teacher salaries in this country than average OECD levels.

As we’ve found here in West Bend, plenty of people here believe they shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced, much less make any sacrifices, to guarantee the next generation gets a good education. But while we’ve been arguing about this, plenty of other countries sucked it up, made the necessary sacrifices and are leaving us in their dust.

The United States is now eighth from the bottom in terms of high school graduation rates among OECD countries. College graduation rates are even more revealing: the United States slipped from second to 13th place between 1995 and 2008, not because our rates declined but because rates have risen faster in other OECD countries. Eleven countries have passed us during the last 15 years – including China.

To summarize: We’ve remained stagnant as an educational power in the world while we continue to avoid investing in education at the levels that would keep us competitive for the rest of the world – even though we have the money.

Can you hear the sirens yet? Are we going to have to lose another USS Arizona, snoring away in port, before we roll out of bed and decide to try to keep up with the rest of the world?

So listen: The anti-school forces in West Bend who have tried every way from Sunday to cheat our kids out of the kind of education that will keep this country competitive on the global stage are – let’s make this simple – a threat to the economic future of the United States. These true believers believe we can compete by cutting educational opportunities instead of investing in them.

This might not be a problem if we only had to compete with Slovenia, but we need to compete with China. China will not be content to make cheap plastic junk forever and, from the looks of this Pearl Harbor survey, they won’t have to for much longer. They’re looking forward to replacing us politically and economically on the global stage, something that looks increasingly likely now that they’re ahead of us educationally.

So look: Our grandparents and parents made sacrifices for our benefit with good humor and dogged determination. But if you can’t stomach the inconvenience of educating the next generation, if you don't want to invest in the future of this country by doing everything you can to guarantee a “Smartest Generation” – and soon – then your priorities are just plain wrong.

The personal greediness sanctified by the Chicago School of Economics and accepted as an article of faith in this country during the past decade has become a real threat to the future of the Republic. Here’s your choice folks: Either help your country stay ahead in an increasingly dangerous and competitive world or get the hell out of the way.

Or, you could always just hit the snooze alarm, drift back into your happy American Dream and blow off your responsibilities.

Americans have gotten good at that.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Global warming: We can't handle the truth anymore | The Economist

Debbie Downer says:

One of the little observed pieces of the human puzzle is that people don't really want to know things at all -- they prefer believing. Belief is easier and more emotionally satisfying than knowledge -- in the same way candy is more emotionally satisfying than broccoli: especially if you manage to keep your mental age under 4... which, we do.

Global warming: We can't handle the truth anymore | The Economist


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Leafing well enough alone.

Hi everyone,

So the city of West Bend spends between $60,000-80,000 a year picking up leaves -- that don't need to be picked up. My new math tells me that we could afford another kindergarten teacher, plus decent benefits, for that -- oh, and improve the quality of every lawn in town.

Are lawns more important than common sense here in Pleasant Valley Sunday land?

We'll see.

Saturday's column

Leaving nature – and leaves – to its own devices
Why rake when you can mulch and save the city some green?

A few years ago, during an early autumn when the trees in my yard and my neighbor’s 5,000-foot-tall silver maple dropped all their leaves at once, I had one of those moments Arsenio Hall used to call “things that make you go hmm?”

It might have been the mountain of leaves I’d raked onto a gigantic blue tarp that made me stop and reconsider the wisdom of what I was doing, but I suddenly wondered why we rake leaves in the first place and why we expect the city to pick them up.

I mean, trees take nutrition out of the soil and put it into the leaves. Leaves fall, decompose and return their nutrients to the soil. It’s a simple idea and practical. Ah, but humans always have a better idea: We create complex systems and specialized energy hungry industrial technologies to interrupt this perfectly natural cycle and throw those nutrients away as pesky or inconvenient or, more tellingly, “waste.”

This may summarize what’s wrong with human beings.

We used to burn leaves. Anyone my age can remember the wonderful smell of burning leaves in the autumn. Every once in a while, maybe out in the country, you’ll drive through a plume of smoke from a pile of burning leaves and the perfume of it transports you back to an earlier time. Piles of leaves carry a lot of childhood nostalgia. Of course, burning the leaves doesn’t make any more sense than raking them to the curb and hauling them away. In both cases you’re throwing away nutrients your lawn would love.


On the other hand, even though it’s clear that millions of Americans burning leaves every fall is not good for air quality, I’ve come around to the belief that if we must risk global warming, then sacrificing human civilization for the smell of burning leaves would be worth it. Diesel oil, no. Burning leaves, yes.

It’s become such an annual ritual that we no longer question whether it’s a good idea, but remember grass clippings? The city doesn’t pick those up anymore because in 1993, it became illegal to dump grass clippings and leaves into landfills. The city stopped picking up grass clippings. Why does it still pick up the leaves? Hmm?

I don’t know either, but I followed the trail of last year’s leaf collection and turned up some interesting factoids:

In 2009 the city of West Bend collected about 3,041,000 pounds of leaves using 1,687 manhours and West Bend’s two giant vacuum cleaner trucks. (They’re called Vac/Alls. When I called up Public Works to check these numbers, I asked whether I could borrow one to clean out my basement but they politely said no.)

West Bend also uses two crews of six people and a couple of those smaller leafbroom pusher-trucks.

Picking up the leaves cost the city $61,000 last year.

Brush collection, which the city of Fond du Lac eliminated this year, cost the city of West Bend $70,338 in 2009.

One more: The DNR has data indicating that the costs of handling yard waste increased “nearly 50 percent from 2000 to 2005.”

I was happy to discover that the leaves aren’t wasted. The city has a list of local farmers who use the leaves as mulch on their fields and as bedding for their livestock – at no cost to the farmers.

But why should the farmers have all the fun? Most of us who live in the city are farmers, too – lawn farmers. And we share the need for a healthier crop.

The year I had my “Hmm?” moment, as I stood wondering before the mighty mountain of leaves, I looked next door and caught my neighbor mowing right over his leaves, mulching them into his lawn. He waved and smiled and said, “You know, mowing is easier.”

He’s smart. It turns out that mulching your leaves into your lawn is the city of West Bend’s preferred approach to dealing with autumn. It leaves the nutrients in your lawn and it saves tax dollars.

But there’s a secret lesson in civics hidden under this pile of leaves, and it’s a reminder about how good neighbors happen. Even when the leaves aren’t from your own trees, you still take responsibility for them. You can do the math from there.


Republicans waging class warfare... Axis of Depression -

Class warfare always works from the top down because the people on top are the ones with the power. What better way to keep the money flowing up?

Axis of Depression -

No doubt some of Mr. Bernanke’s critics are motivated by sincere intellectual conviction, but the core reason for the attack on the Fed is self-interest, pure and simple. China and Germany want America to stay uncompetitive; Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Hedge Fund Republic? -

A Hedge Fund Republic? -

In contrast, a study commissioned by the Labor Department during the Bush administration makes clear the job-creation power of unemployment benefits because that money is immediately spent. The study suggested that the current recession would have been 18 percent worse without unemployment insurance and that this spending preserved 1.6 million jobs in each quarter

Saturday, November 13, 2010

West Bend needs a Pastafarian Charter School.

Hi everyone,

There's a local fundamentalist here trying to sell the idea of a non-sectarian charter school to the local district. It turns out that one of the school board members is a member of the church. Waring Fincke, our local rainbow-suspenders- wearing liberal-gadfly, wrote a wonderful letter asking for their non-sectarian approach to teaching sex education, their anti-harassment policy position on LGBTQ, and whether evolution would appear in their curriculum. So far, no real response. They've clung to the "it's about a choice in values for the parents" argument without really saying why those values should be subsidized by the tax payer.

I thought, there's only one appropriate response to this. We need a Pastafarian solution.

Saturday's column.

Public schools are unfairly blamed

Let’s include Pastafarians in debate on charter school

His Holiness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, made His first public appearance in a May 2005 open letter to the Kansas state school board. He flew in to save Kansans from their own self-seriousness as public officials, under pressure from fundamentalist groups, considered whether to include Intelligent Design in their science curriculum. His Noodliness serves as a reminder that, in these times, when politics has become a dangerous joke, only comedy can tell the truth.

The letter was written by a devout Pastafarian, as members of the church call themselves, and reminded the board that there were many different versions of Intelligent Design. He urged the board to include Pastafarianism's, equally scientific, view of Intelligent Design which holds that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Pastafarianism doesn’t stop there. It provides an equally scientific account of global warming, insightfully noting the empirically demonstrable relationship between a decrease in the overall number of pirates during the past 100 years and a simultaneous increase in global temperature. The letter demanded equal time with the non-spaghetti based fundamentalist Christian version of I.D. and, in order to offset global warming, encouraged people to talk like pirates. (For all the revealing details, see

Now, even though the Church of the FSM isn’t a real church – like the First Baptist Church or Scientology, say – I believe Pastafarianism holds an answer to questions about whether West Bend should go forward with a values-based charter school.

Typically, charter schools have been sold to the public on the basis of a marketing campaign emphasizing the quality of their performance. These campaigns have depended more on glowing press reports and for-profit industry based advertising schemes rather than on actual data.

Diane Ravitch, one of the original proponents of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind, explained her change of heart in the Wall Street Journal back on March 10, 2010 – after she’d carefully uncovered the chasm between the inflated promises and the reality of charter school performance. It turns out, for instance, that when charter schools are measured against public schools, only 17 percent of charter schools did better, 46 percent were roughly the same, and 37 percent were worse.

Pastor Dunford’s charter school promotion rides a wave of resentment directed against public schools, but this resentment turns out to be an empty paper sack.

Consider this: Even though Gallup’s annual poll on education shows Americans to be “overwhelmingly dissatisfied” with the quality of America’s schools, “77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.”

Another even more urgent fact: The anti-public-school lobbyists and marketing firms have stoked this dissatisfaction by blaming teachers and, especially, teachers unions. To believe that teachers are at fault for our declining international educational standing requires one to ignore a couple of well-known studies from the National Bureau of Economic Research going back to 1998. The data clearly shows that the quality of teachers accounts for only 7.5 to 10 percent of any increase in student test scores and for only about 10 to 20 percent in performance outcomes. Shockingly, the major factor determining student success in school is poverty. After that, parental participation.

So arguing for charter schools on the basis of improved performance is iffy at best. But if performance isn’t an issue and financing doesn’t have any advantages, why would anyone want to drain funding from our already overstretched public school budgets in order to create a charter school? Well, how about the values argument?

Back to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. What if a local pastor from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster wanted to create a “values-based” charter school to teach the core values of Pastafarianism: clean living, eating carbohydrates and talking like a pirate?

Imagine if we discovered that a number of the school board members promoting a FSM Charter School were Pastafarians themselves and had hidden this fact from public view? Would we have reason to suspect they had conducted their noodley business behind the backs of the public they are sworn to represent?

Even if they received no financial benefit from moving tax dollars away from the public schools and into the coffers of a Pastafarian prep school, wouldn’t someone raise an eyebrow and wonder whether there wasn’t a hidden agenda here, different from “offering parents a choice”? Maybe their real agenda isn’t delivering good public education at all – since the data suggest that public education, certainly in West Bend, is already doing a great job – but rather teaching students to carbo-load and talk like pirates.

Wouldn’t the public have a right to know? Arrrrrr?


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Fall back.

Hi everyone,

Shellacking is right and about time, too. Maybe this will wake up those members of the electorate who've been lulled to sleep by visions of corporate sugarplums -- of course, that is why they call it the American Dream. It only works when you're sleeping.

Frankly, the only thing about this election that unsettled me was watching the narcotic effects of all that negative, US Chamber funded advertising. I can think of any number of reasons a conservative might have voted against Feingold, for instance, but I never heard one of those reasons uttered by any conservative -- instead what we heard were the fear soaked memes of the kind of business marketing that will sacrifice democracy for profits.

But then, there's nothing really surprising about that either.

St. Crispin's Day will be back.

Saturday's column.

Time to fall back
Election holds promise of tight wages and wild spending history

Daylight savings time ended this week on Tuesday when Wisconsin voters, encouraged by a massive corporate sponsored campaign of public service announcements, turned their clocks back a full six years to 2004. Not content with perhaps the most thoroughgoing financial reform in legislative history, an overhauled health care system designed to keep Medicare solvent and extend care to millions of previously uncovered families, or a tax break for 95 percent of the population, Americans voted for change.

After springing forward, it was time to fall back. Local elections in the coming year will determine whether to change Wisconsin’s state motto from “Forward” to “Backwards.”

People love thinking about change, but nobody actually likes to do it. Rather than face further anxiety about the future, Americans dependably marched backwards toward the brighter and more compelling marketing plan and back to political and economic policies they could believe in.

What does Conservative change look like? It’s familiar to every American. It’s the kind of Reaganomics-driven change that limited the average salary increase among middle class workers to less than 1 percent between 1980 and 2008, while simultaneously cutting taxes and government regulations in a way that launched the income of the wealthiest 5 percent into the orbit.

Tuesday’s choice for the comfortably nonthreatening 1 percent improvement stands in stark contrast to the, apparently frightening, 30 years of Dark Ages between 1950 and 1980, when the average worker’s salary rose 74.6 percent. Voters, encouraged by the right wing, cheerfully rejected the latter in favor of the former. It was a satisfying endorsement of the kind of oligarchic change in which autoworkers take huge pay cuts while Wall Street corner office boys receive bonuses at record levels.

Voters acted just in time too, for had this uncontrolled pattern of income growth for regular Americans continued through 2008, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans would have been 68 percent higher than it is today: a disturbing $406 a week for the typical family.

Clearly, Americans weren’t comfortable with that kind of prosperity and, by trusting Republican administrations in the 1980s and 2000s ducked any anxiety all of that extra income might have caused. Fortunately, much of that anxiety-producing income ended up in the pockets of the top 1 percent where it was spent on new nautically themed cocktail napkins for yachting parties and, of course, job creation. The fact that recent windfalls to corporate coffers haven’t been used for job creation only indicates that yachting parties are a more pressing matter – that’s all.

Voters also fired off a firm “No way man” to the crazed liberal tax and spend ideology, a worldview that pays for the services we elect representatives to provide and maintain by using taxation. Under this lunatic upside-down world, every time the government spends money on something – space shuttles, interstate highways, protecting our food supply – they insist on raising the money to pay for it.

Imagine the inefficiency of having to pay for what you want. By contrast, voters on Tuesday opted for the simpler and less painful Republican approach: spending money on services we need but refusing to charge us for any of it. The trick is to not pay for any of it now, but to instead cut taxes and channel all of that expense into future debt.

As this column has pointed out before, Republicans can take pride in never having to pay for anything. Democrats, on the other hand, can be safely saddled with the elitist albatross of having never once increased national debt as a percentage of GDP, not since FDR. Just like those friends of yours who don’t owe anything on their credit cards. The credit card industry calls people like that “deadbeats.” Conservatives call people like that “liberals.”

Best of all Scott Walker, the governor-Elect, immediately declared that “Wisconsin is now open for business.” It is. Now that we, finally, have the best government money can buy, everyone can expect the same level of government concern every fast-food employee knows they’ll receive from their assistant manager whenever they need a night off to study – or have a life.

And that, at least, is the kind of change we’re all familiar with.

Most importantly, resetting our political and economic policies to standard conservative time on Tuesday really cleaned the Democratic Party’s clock. Everyone can use a good clock cleaning now and then, especially when they’ve earned it.

Oh but remember: We get one hour back this weekend. That’ll be a start.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Apres le Deluge: It’s NaNoWriMo time

Hi everyone,

Well, here's to a weekend of missing journalistic ethics at the Daily News.

I was told I couldn't write anything political this weekend, the weekend before the election, because it was too close and that people wouldn't have enough time to respond via letters... so I put together this bit of Halloween candy instead (still fun, but not what I wanted to say 2 days before we test the corporate effectiveness of the Citizens United case).

Disappointingly, the op-ed across from mine this morning was a piece of Hoover Institution flapdoodle "proving" that tax cuts for the rich are good for everyone... so, like... huh.

I guess we now know what the real editorial policy of the Daily News is.

In any case, this week's bit is on the upcoming NaNoWriMo, starting Monday. This may be the best cure for Tuesday's outcome, regardless of how things go! :^)

Political buckthorn or garlic mustard invading your lives this week? Plant grape vines to strangle them. It works.

They chopped some material out of my column this week, so, here's the original.

Apres le Deluge: It’s NaNoWriMo time

With Tuesday’s election only two days away, this weekend becomes a quarantined journalistic island on the op-ed page -- no politicking with regard to Tuesday’s elections allowed. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a prescription to help carry you through the rest of the month, regardless of your state of mind on Wednesday morning, after your worst fears have been realized -- or dodged. During November this year I’m making plans, along with nearly 200,000 other lunatics, to write the first draft of a novel. November is National Novel Writing Month.

If you ever thought you had a story to tell but could never muster the courage to start writing it, here’s a way to get started. Begin at the National Novel Writing Month website,, for all the details.

The basic idea is simple: 30 days, 50,000 words, rough draft, no editing. That’s right: no editing.

Why would anyone do something like this? Simple: to get ‘er done.

The enterprise got started in 1999 when Chris Baty and 20 other writers in the San Fransisco area decided that they needed a one month writing binge to get past their procrastination and to get a rough draft of something, anything, finished. It didn’t have to be great, it just had to be over 50,000 words. They assumed this would be a grueling, desperate, and over-caffeinated month long slog into misery, but that’s not what happened. Even though only six clambered across the 50k-word finish line to “win” the marathon -- and this was the important part -- they all had fun. As Chris describes the event, it turned out to be “half literary marathon and half block party.”

From there, things started to escalate. Participation climbed to 5000 (with 700 winners) by 2001. By 2005, 59,000 people participated (with 9,769 winners). Last year: 167,150 participants with 32,178 successfully clearing the 50k word-mark. In fact, 1295 K-12 schools participated last year and NaNoWriMo, now run by a 501(c)(3), Office of Letters and Light, has even established a Young Writers Program. I’ve been trying to remember to sign up for the last few years, but always missed the November 1st deadline. But not this year.

It’s been exhilarating to wander around the website’s forum and discussion areas, and watch the old timers meet up with each other. And I’ve felt a bit like a Martian anthropologist, trying to make sense of all the sort of tribal groupings and strange divisions inside the NaNo universe. The Mac vs PC war rages good naturedly throughout the place. There seems to be an ambient anti-Microsoft bias in favor of simple, non-distracting word processors, but a lot of participants are using novel-writing and idea-organizing specific software like Scrivener or OneNote. User forums are set up to handle questions about how surviving the week after week grind, to channel advice from old hands to the newbies (like me!), to answer questions related to researching your plot (what kinds of useful neurotoxins can you find in fish? What was the name of Amelia Earhart’s first airplane?) and on the proper use of semi-colons (linking two independent clauses). Different tribes have already set up their own electronic campsites: the hipster iPad users hang out together, as do those who will be writing throughout November using only their phones. And then there are the Old School Hard Core brigades who have pledged to complete this journey writing on (gasp) typewriters and, crazier still, by hand. I love writing with a fountain pen but this is prose, not poetry: I’ll be typing on a netbook and using DragonWare’s NaturallySpeaking dictation software.

The fun, however, lies in meeting, socializing, and writing with other local “WriMos.” Here in Washington County we fall under the heading of “Wisconsin::Elsewhere” and have already started a group on campus up at UW-Washington County. We’re experimenting, using NaNoWriMo, with a “campus write” (as opposed to a more common “campus read”) to try to engage as many of the students as possible in the experience of marathon writing. And here, officially, I wanted to invite anyone in the area who might be interested in this adventure to join us!

If you or anyone you know has always wanted to give this a whirl, the easiest route is to log in to the NaNo website, sign up, and meet up in the Wisconsin Elsewhere regional forum.

Whether your party does well or ill on Tuesday, this is a great way to let your creative seeds take root as winter falls.

That website is and here's the direct link to the Wisconsin:Elsewhere forum. Join us!


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rand-y Republicans threaten Republic.

Hi everyone,

Right, the headline I asked for was simply "Rand-y Republicans." That would have been plenty. My editor had other ideas.

In the meantime, Saturday's column

‘Me the People’

Conservatives follow Rand road map and threaten Constitution and Christian ethics

I was going to vote against Ron Johnson simply because he’s just another millionaire tycoon who wants my money, but he tipped his hand during the Oct, 11 “debate” with Sen. Feingold. Now I have an even better reason to vote against him: he’s a follower of Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand, author and celebrity, is showing up all over the conservative universe these days. Earlier this year Paul Ryan confirmed that she was a major component in the development of his political understanding and, everywhere you look, her theories promoting overthe-top radical individualism are popping up like magic mushrooms.

Personally, I loved Ayn Rand when I was 14. She appeals to everything a 14-year-old loves: 1) an obsession with individualism and personal liberty and 2) the attending conviction that your interests are infinitely more important than anyone else’s. If I thought I deserved my own car at 14 and my parents said “no,” well, that was a problem with my parents, not with me. They were clearly acting irrationally. That year, my freshman year in high school, I read “Anthem” and “Atlas Shrugged” and every word rang true – because I was 14.

But Rand quickly fell away into the pile of other early adolescent discards, soon to be replaced by cars and girls and more adult reading like C.S. Lewis, Robert Heinlein, and JRR Tolkien. During my confirmation year in church I also had my first exposure to real philosophical thinking in the works of Kierkegaard and Martin Buber.

Rand’s books sat next to my well-thumbed, and discarded, copy of “Catcher in the Rye.” Once her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” was published (in 1979, the year I went off to graduate school), and I was old enough not to be impressed by her inflated and kitschy jargon, she’d proven beyond any doubt that while her work was adequate as literature, it is useless – in fact, toxic and amoral – as political or economic theory.

Professional philosophers don’t spend any time on Rand’s work because it’s simply not coherent enough to be considered worth the trouble. Even in discussions of ethical egoism – an ethical theory more appropriate to whining children than adults – we don’t waste our students’ time with more than about two minutes of the stuff: just long enough to point out it’s glaring inadequacy. Here it is: Rand splits the universe of ethics into two, irreconcilable, sides.

The first is her preferred worldview, one in which the world is thought to be better off when everyone follows only their own self-interest. The second is what she calls the “ethics of altruism” and contains everything else. Any ethics not grounded in selfinterest is consigned to the “ethics of altruism” bin.

For Rand, altruism is considered self-destructive because altruism asks individuals to act in the interests of others. For Rand this is no different than asking someone to sacrifice themselves and, since no rational person can be expected to sacrifice themselves, anyone who supports the ethics of altruism expects others to make sacrifices for them. Altruism, therefore, makes you a parasite or a freeloader. Or crazy.

Whenever you hear someone say “I shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support someone else!” you’re hearing Rand. You can see how this would be particularly attractive to free-market economics, which rests on a kind of divine command to be self-interested and the belief that “Greed is good” rather than a sin.

Speaking of which, you’ll notice that the ethics of altruism includes Christian ethics – and the divine command to look after those less fortunate than you are – or, to make this even more obvious, consider parenting. No parent can possibly believe their self-interest is more important than the interests of their child. Or consider the soldier who throws him- or herself on a grenade to save their buddies. Such an action is, as the list of Medal of Honor recipients makes clear, the most compellingly heroic and altruistic act possible. But for Rand, altruism – looking out for others – is always misguided.

See the red lights flashing?

But we don’t have to chase this pig this far. Rand’s universe is built on the sand of a false alternative. Complete and debilitating self-sacrifice isn’t the only alternative to raw self-interest. It turns out that you can look after your self-interest AND still be willing to make sacrifices for your children, your neighbors or your country.

There, that took less than two minutes.

Ron Johnson’s favorite author promotes an extremist libertarianism that is, nonetheless, popular and attractive – and for all the reasons a worldview is always attractive to 14-year-olds – because it tells them they’re the most important thing in the universe and that their concerns are the only things that matter. Under this worldview, you have responsibilities only to yourself.

I don’t want someone like that in power. Greed and selfishness do not make for good economics or good civic life. Rand’s theories and the commitment of her followers, like plastics tycoon Ron Johnson, are set to turn “We the People” into “Me the People.” That’s not a country anyone over 14 should have to live in.

Many thanks to my colleague Evan Kreider for the 2 fruitful minutes he spent (in a class I visited last week) reviewing the fallacies churning away like irritable scorpions in the sand beneath Rand's worldview.

And so it goes.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oshkosh recognizes the ‘plastic packaging of Ron Johnson’

Oshkosh recognizes the ‘plastic packaging of Ron Johnson’

Ron Johnson’s defenders are, for the most part, people who do not know the man.

His most powerful critics, on the other hand, are the people who know him best.

The millionaire candidate who is trying to buy a Wisconsin Senate seat without actually coming into contact with Wisconsinites keeps getting bad reviews from folks in Oshkosh.

His hometown newspaper summed things up in a profile of the candidate that ran Oct. 3.

“Little is known about the millionaire Oshkosh business owner outside of details released by a carefully scripted campaign and a small number of public comments and interviews granted by Johnson, whose campaign did not respond to multiple requests for interviews for this story,” observed the Oshkosh Northwestern.

Oshkosh recognizes the ‘plastic packaging of Ron Johnson’

Oshkosh recognizes the ‘plastic packaging of Ron Johnson’

Ron Johnson’s defenders are, for the most part, people who do not know the man.

His most powerful critics, on the other hand, are the people who know him best.

The millionaire candidate who is trying to buy a Wisconsin Senate seat without actually coming into contact with Wisconsinites keeps getting bad reviews from folks in Oshkosh.

His hometown newspaper summed things up in a profile of the candidate that ran Oct. 3.

“Little is known about the millionaire Oshkosh business owner outside of details released by a carefully scripted campaign and a small number of public comments and interviews granted by Johnson, whose campaign did not respond to multiple requests for interviews for this story,” observed the Oshkosh Northwestern.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The right to bare arms.

Hi everyone,

Saturday's column.

The right to ‘bare’ arms
Even better: We don’t have to exercise 2nd Amendment right

Two weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon in West Bend, several dozen citizens met at a local coffee shop to demonstrate their right to openly carry legal sidearms. This “casual open-carry get-together,” organized through, the “premier resource” for right to carry, went off without a hitch. Holsters and weapons were polished for the occasion, the police were in attendance to monitor the situation, just in case; and the coffee was delicious.

This wasn’t a protest, really, since there is nothing to protest. Article 1 section 25 of the Wisconsin State constitution, enacted in 1998, states that “The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose.”

Moreover, the June 28, 2010, federal Supreme Court ruling, affirming its interpretation of the Second Amendment, now guarantees that individuals may bear arms whether they’re in a militia or not. Openly carrying your constitutionally protected firearms isn’t a protest, but a display of rights guaranteed by the Constitution and federal courts and so, despite the police presence, these citizens simply met up at a local coffee shop in exactly the same way antique car fans — or model train aficionados — show up at local burger joints: to have fun and to compare muzzle velocity and stopping power.

The event was covered by the press and the local blogosphere.

But, during that week and in the weeks that followed, an even more remarkable demonstration was under way, completely under the radar of the national or even the local press.

In the weeks since the Open Carry demonstration, not dozens, but thousands of people entered that same coffee shop, bought coffee, and even talked to their friends — wait for it — completely unarmed.

Remarkable? I’ll say. But even more astonishing is that, during this past week alone, as many as 30,000 people in West Bend went shopping, picked up dry cleaning, drove to work, and even attended church — yes, unarmed.

So many people participated in this society-wide demonstration that nobody even noticed.

While I could have celebrated my right to openly carry a sidearm while enjoying a monster nerve-jarring latte (three shots and whole milk please),

I chose instead to celebrate an even more remarkable American privilege: the privilege of not having to carry weapons anymore.

We no longer have to protect ourselves as we did in the days of the Wild West. Not only is it safe nowadays to play poker with friends, or even walk your dog, without strapping on a six-shooter, we no longer have to fight off bears — or coyotes. Or pumas.

Or desperadoes. We don’t even need to defend ourselves against bandits now that we have a police force. In fact, it turns out that it’s a lot safer to let the police handle all of that for us.

One of the better, more recent studies on gun ownership (by the University of Pennsylvania Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology from October 2009) found that, in Philadelphia at any rate, those who carried guns were 4.5 times more likely to get shot, and 4.2 times more likely to get killed than those who don’t.

Recent numbers from the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics (2007) indicate the greatest number of deaths from handguns are, in fact, suicides.

Gun lobbyists will argue with any numbers related to the defensive use of handguns, but you can’t argue with dinner. Just remember that every day you’re able to eat a cheeseburger without reaching for your Ruger LCP or Glock 19, you’re part of a much larger, much quieter demonstration: a daily celebration of nationhood where you have a right to bear arms, but don’t need to.

I'm not happy about the secondary headline that my editor added -- probably assuming the pun in the original headline needed clarification. I didn't want to say that not-exercising ones Second Amendment rights was "better" but that it's an even greater privilege not to have to carry a weapon when picking up a cup of coffee.

It'd be okay to note that a counter-demonstration was in the works but was scrapped because of safety concerns. It involved a phalanx of 10-year olds wielding super-soaker squirt guns, but there was some parental concern that a few of the kids might actually shot by the honorable yahoos who needed to show off their... pieces. So the squirt guns got scratched.

I guess the Open Carry folks got their message across after all.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Ron Johnson Plans "Re-education" of America


The Washington Monthly

Elsewhere in the Politico piece, VandeHei asked what kind of innovative ideas Johnson might pursue as a U.S. senator. Johnson skipped right past substantive issues, and committed himself to a "re-education of America."

Are you kidding me? Can you even imagine what the response would be if a liberal Democrat vowed to pursue a "re-education of America" if elected to the U.S. Senate?

Maybe Wisconsin voters just don't know what they're getting themselves into; maybe they do and they're angry enough not to care. Regardless, Johnson may not get the exposure some of his extremist allies get in Nevada, Delaware, and Kentucky, but the differences between his right-wing worldview and theirs are practically non-existent.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Palin proof that Darwin got it wrong.

From the Borowitz Report
OSLO, NORWAY (The Borowitz Report) – Two of the theory of evolution’s most vociferous doubters, Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell, may be living proof that Darwin was wrong, leading scientists believe.

A conference of the most prominent evolutionary scientists in the world has concluded that the apparent evolution of Ms. Palin into Ms. O’Donnell suggests, in the words of Dr. Hiroshi Kyosuke of the University of Tokyo, “that Darwin got it backwards.”

“We still believe that evolution is more than a theory and is, in fact, a very real thing,” said Dr. Kyosuke. “However, in the case of Palin and O’Donnell, it seems to be moving in a reverse direction.”

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Is foreign money buying a Republican victory in Wisconsin's Senate race?

Hi everyone,

Yep, looks like it is.

Saturday's column.

Election exchange
Chamber ‘system’ banks on foreigners to bankroll Johnson

Back in 2002, Sens. Russ Feingold and John McCain worked together to produce the kind of campaign finance reform that made it difficult for foreign governments or corporations to buy American elections.

Today, foreign money is pouring into this year’s election. Some of it is being spent to help the plastics millionaire from Oshkosh run against Feingold – the guy who got in their way. As usual, there’s a tragic irony in this: that foreign money is being funneled into the United States, and now into Wisconsin, by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The McCain-Feingold bill made it illegal for any foreign national to — and watch this — “directly or indirectly” spend any money for the purposes of creating an “electioneering communication.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads aimed at unseating Feingold are pretty much the definition of an “electioneering communication.” Based on current law, these commercials might well be illegal.

But it gets even worse. Not only is it illegal for foreign nationals to spend money on buying elections, or make contributions to fund election-time commercials, it’s also illegal for anyone to ask for such funds from foreign nationals – precisely what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce seems to have done in its solicitation of funding from foreign corporations and governments. Now, in fairness, the Chamber has claimed it has “a system in place” to make sure that the money they take in from overseas is kept separate from the money they’re spending on domestic election campaigns, like the one against Feingold, but the money’s coming out of the same general account.

This sounds a lot like the “system” my little brother used to use to keep the carrots in his serving of peas-and-carrots from touching the peas in his serving of peas-and-carrot: a bit of mashed potato and lots of imagination.

The beauty of this for the Chamber is that, as a 501(c)(6) trade association, they can spend as much money as they want and never reveal the donors. Think of the possibilities for foreign corporations, or governments, that want to influence the outcome of an American election. It’s a dream come true. As of Sept. 15, they’d already bankrolled 8,000 commercials across the United States on behalf of Republican candidates for the Senate. Their list of happy GOP recipients now includes the Republican candidate in Wisconsin. Feingold isn’t just running against a plastics millionaire from Oshkosh – now he’s running against commercial interests from India and Bahrain.

It isn’t surprising that these
interests would target the senator who Washingtonian Magazine listed as the number one enemy of lobbyists in Washington. And it isn’t surprising that Feingold’s millionaire opponent got the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Washingtonian Magazine ranked as the No. 1 friend of lobbyists in Washington. Johnson, in addition to spending his own wealth on the race, has enjoyed $1.3 million worth of “electioneering communications” pour in from outside groups, but there’s more. He’ll also be able to look forward to some of the $464,000 that the National Republican Senatorial committee has already set aside for him. It’s good to be rich and have rich friends. You can do the math from there.

One final, completely practical, observation: commercial and corporate powerhouses in China, India, and Brazil have no interest in keeping jobs in Wisconsin, so why would their candidate? Why would a foreign corporation whose profit motive dictates taking jobs out of America, push for Ron Johnson? Because they expect him to vote in ways that will support their profits. Of course. That’s just good business.

Also, it was nice to see that even millions of foreign dollars can't make you look smart in a debate.


Robert Reich: The Secret Big-Money Takeover of America

More proof that the Tea party has it's wires crossed, and likes it that way.

Robert Reich: The Secret Big-Money Takeover of America

Excellent comment section: "Perhaps the greatest irony is the fact that the original Tea Party fought against corporate tyranny via The East India company. It wasn't just about taxes, it was a tax that specifically favored the East India company and was seen as a direct attack on the small business enterprises in the colonies. Today's Tea Partiers are fighting to allow the corporatists to complete their takeover and they have no idea how far from the original party they are."

Monday, October 04, 2010

Cry babies: People who make $250,000 or more a year can afford a tax hike.

Sorry kids, quit being cry babies.

People who make $250,000 or more a year can afford a tax hike.

They just can't stand losing the idea of themselves as sovereign nations.

Ron Johnson’s Government Assistance despite his protest.

He can run, but he can't hide.

Ron Johnson’s Government Assistance

Johnson opposes tax cuts for 95% of Wisconsin working families, tax credits for Wisconsin small businesses and extending unemployment benefits for Wisconsinites still looking for work, but when it comes to government assistance for him… he is all in.

Finally, in lock step: all GOP Senate candidates deny global warming

Now all GOP Senate candidates deny global warming 

Because consistency proves you're right.

Texas our Texas, all hail the mighty state!

As usual, Texas leads the way.

Texas Hammers EPA on Science of Global Warming

Is stupidity contagious?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Secret World of Extreme Militias

Because the Left is just as racist and xenophobic.


The Secret World of Extreme Militias - TIME

P.T. Barnum was right: Obama is a Muslim

Hi everyone,

Okay, I take it back. We live in a nation filled with people either so afraid or so exhausted that anytime someone passes around the tray of Oxycontin-covered conservative memes, they just grab a handful and swallow 'em without chewing. The result? The extremes start to seem tastier after a while. To call us dumber than sheep is offensive to real sheep.

As Nietzsche pointedly suggested, the skill required to understanding anything beneath the wrapper of synthetic opium is one that humans lack, but which even cows possess: the ability to ruminate.

Check to see if anyone next to you is wearing Big Shoes.

Saturday's column.

P.T. Barnum was right: Obama is a Muslim

Last week I gushed about the quality of the students I get to see here in the Little-University-on-the-Prairie Division of the University of Wisconsin System and, on Monday night, I was relieved to see the School Board invest in the hope, rather than fear.

A new academic year usually brings hope for the future of our democracy. Usually. But this year my hope is tempered by mounting evidence that Americans are more gullible, more taken in by the tricks of slick advertising and more likely to swallow the candy-covered marketing memes of corporatist think-tanks, than ever. Maybe H.L. Mencken was right. Maybe America is really just an “Eden of clowns” – except it looks like we’re becoming an Eden of brain-eating zombie clowns, attempting to spread intolerance like a virus among anyone not yet affected.

My fears for the future of education in the United States red-lined last month when the Pew Center released a poll – followed rapidly by polls from Newsweek and Harris – indicating that an increasing number of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. They found that about 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is Muslim, an increase of 7 percent since March 2009. Harris found that among Republicans “57 percent believe Obama is a Muslim, 22 percent believe he ‘wants the terrorists to win’ and 24 percent believe he is the Antichrist.”

Right. That’s where we are.

The last time I had this experience was in the months following the March 2003 invasion of Iraq when polls revealed that as many as 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I stumbled on this number completely by accident after a number of students in my ethics course handed in their first papers (Topic: “How would Aristotle criticize the 9/11 terrorists?”) and a number of them identified the terrorists as Iraqis.

My own surveys confirmed the numbers. I wrote to my colleagues across the UW Colleges to ask their students to identify the terrorists’ country of origin. Dozens wrote back confirming the same jaw-dropping misinformation. Polls immediately following 9/11 had shown that only about 3 percent of Americans thought Saddam might be responsible.

So how had Americans come to believe, falsely, that Hussein was responsible despite the fact that news reports had made the truth completely clear that the planes were flown by Saudis?

They didn’t come up with these ideas on their own. It was a well-oiled on-message propaganda effort. And how have an increasing number of Americans come to believe, falsely, that Obama is a Muslim? They didn’t come up with that idea on their own either.

It isn’t entirely new. During the campaign in 2008 I canvassed a house just outside of West Bend where the resident, a McCain supporter, told me he would not vote for Obama because 1) Obama was a Muslim and 2) because of the things Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had said about 9/11. When I pointed out that Obama was a member of the United Church of Christ and that this might be a reason to suspect that Obama wasn’t a Muslim, this local resident said that UCC members weren’t really Christians.

This example of zombie clown insanity was an isolated incident two years ago. Today, 18 percent of Americans (and 57 percent of Republicans) act, and will vote, in response to a patently false belief. So what’s to be done?

We could follow the sound advice in a speech President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave 66 years ago this week, over the radio to the Herald Tribune Women’s Conference on Current Affairs. In light of the ongoing triumph of complete nonsense, one bit in particular bears repeating.

“More and more men and women are looking up their own facts and forming their own opinion. And equally important, we are learning in these days to discriminate between real news and mere rumor. As a people, we put our tongues in our cheeks when a fact, or a series of facts are distorted, no matter what motive is the cause of that distortion. We as a people, throughout the length and breadth of the country, are less and less inclined to believe those who would create fear or encourage panic. We as a people pay small attention to those gossip mongers who invent tales, generally of course, with a selfish objective behind the tales. You and I, as sensible Americans, know of daily instances which mar rather than help our common efforts for calm discussion of current problems.”

Now, go check your nose in the mirror. Be honest with yourself. Is it big and round and red?


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don’t cheat the kids

Hi everyone,

The West Bend school district's annual meeting is Monday. Like last year, a group of anti-school anti-tax anti-publicly-funded-anything activists will be making an appearance to argue that there's more fat to cut from the desiccated skeletal remains of the district budget.

There's a name for people like this: civic adolescents.

It's time for the grown-ups stand up to them. The silent majority in my little town isn't conservative or liberal -- they're just silent -- they need to get in the game and speak up for their kids.

Saturday's column.

Don’t cheat the kids
At least show up for annual district meeting

I’m lucky this year. My classrooms are full, as usual, and – as usual – full of darned fine students. In fact, I’m lucky most years. Why is that? Because the teachers and parents in the West Bend school district produce great kids and darned fine students, that’s why.

The truth is, we all have good reasons to feel lucky, even now when the state funding formula threatens the quality of education everyone’s worked so hard to create. For five years running, Newsweek has ranked West Bend high schools among the top 5 percent in the entire country. We’re still one of the most cost-effective districts in Wisconsin and we still have one of the very lowest tax rates in the state; taxes are even lower now than they were in 1993.

All the numbers shout that we’re getting huge bang for our buck and, best of all, the district is creating great students. I know because I’m lucky enough to see hundreds of them every year. We can be proud and hopeful about the future for these students.

But only if we refuse to let it be taken away from them.

The school district’s annual meeting is scheduled for this Monday night at 7 p.m. in the East High School auditorium with the budget hearing set for 6:30 p.m. The School Board has to make some tough decisions and they need your help.

Maybe you’ve never been to a school district meeting, or maybe you have been and all of that angry political noise made you wish you’d stayed home. West Bend seems to have its share of angry anti-school activists these days, all of them screaming for your kids’ programs to be cut in the name of their antitax political ideology. But no kid in West Bend should be the victim of ideology – whether it’s my belief that we have an moral responsibility to prepare kids to compete against China and India or the ideological conviction of the anti-school activists who believe it’s even wrong to spend public money on public education.

No kid should be penalized because adults get into arguments about politics.

So, forget about all of that. Forget the signs and the overly political arguments you don’t even care about. At the end of the day there’s only one thing that you do care about: your kids.

Woody Allen, back when he was still making funny movies, once wrote that “90 percent of life is showing up.” You need to come to the meeting Monday night and show up for your kids.

The district, as you know, is being squashed by cuts in state funding and, especially, by the trick of diverting funding into a school levy “tax credit” which, as my grandma used to say “robs Peter to pay Paul.” It looks like tax relief and, on paper, looks like continued funding to the school district, but it’s all for show – by taking that money out of the funding stream and away from the schools, members from both parties in Madison have set things up to cheat your kids out of the kind of education that made this one of the best performing districts in the state.

Everything except core educational programs have now been cut, so now is the time you have to come in, ignore the political noise, and stand up for your kids rights to the same level of educational excellence the district delivered last year, and the year before that.

A small and vocal group of program-cutting activists keeps insisting that they love their kids too – but you don’t demonstrate that by taking away the right of every kid to a complete education: to band, or football, or art, or foreign languages, or advanced math classes, or by cutting the gifted-and-talented programs. You don’t make a better life for your children by cheating them out of the best education we can afford.

But again, 90 percent of life is showing up. Whether one side of the political debate is louder than the other or manages to score more debating points – or whatever – none of these things matter in the face of what you really care about: your kids.

On Monday night show up and stand up for your kids. If you do, no one will be able to cheat your kids out of the education they deserve, an education you’ve worked so hard to provide.