Sunday, May 30, 2010

Green Politics for a nourishing summer.

Hi everyone,

I just got hungry for collard greens and this is what happened.

Saturday's column.

Organic: To go or not to go
Cultivated bounty holds much promise

This week, something to chew on. It’s that time of year again. The heat wave last week set the stage for the return of the Farmer's Market on Main Street in West Bend; they’ll be up and running from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays starting May 29 and finishing the season Oct. 30.

Frankly, I can hardly touch a salad during most of the winter. I need potatoes and carrots and onions cooked into caramelized delirium on top of a pot roast (oven time: 3.5 hours minimum). But once the weather turns warm, I turn into Bugs Bunny. The carrots need to be fresh and crispy. The lettuce, too. I even go completely nuts for all that dark green leafy stuff like kale and collards and turnip greens (tossed with olive oil and garlic).

I’m not the only one who goes salad-mad during warmer weather. Maybe humans are designed to get hungry for whatever happens to be available as the calendar clocks through the seasons.

Our local Farmer's Market was a kind of gateway drug for me. Fresh food and good prices are addictive.

Last year I confessed publicly to crossing over into the bark-eating vegan-curious foodie category. We joined Wellspring in Newburg, one of southeastern Wisconsin's CSAs (community supported agriculture). They provided a vegetable tsunami we surfed all summer, shooting the curl dizzy with kohlrabi and garlic and greens sprinkled with home made chive blossom vinegar.

This year, we’re taking another step. This year we’re getting dirty too, contributing a few shifts of work cultivating and weeding the food we’ll be eating all summer. We don’t garden at home – I am probably one of the few people on earth who cannot grow tomatoes – so this is one of the best ways to enjoy gardening, meet interesting people, and eat.

You can see how this might escalate. I was planning to push my luck growing my own crop next year by renting a plot through West Bend Community gardens (when you can't even raise tomatoes, it’s time to call in master gardeners). The county just gave the gardens an additional 1,200 square feet, in fact, but the plots are already reserved: 77 in all with a waiting list.

Our neighbors who were lucky enough to work these gardens last year harvested a total of around 3,000 pounds of food (at a market value of roughly $2 a pound). Nearly 700 pounds of produce went directly to the food pantry. If they can put together another site for next year, more spots will become available. (For more info write to:

Last year I mentioned a few reasons you might want to eat locally and organic (environmentally friendly, no pesticides, lower carbon footprint, less expensive, tastes great) but, unfortunately, new reports are now out tying the consumption of pesticides to ADHD in children and cancer in adults.

Fortunately, you don't have to go completely organic to dodge this unhappy probability distribution. There are better and worse options and the Environmental Working Group has come up with a list of veggies you can buy that’ll decrease your intake of agri-business related toxins by as much as 80 percent. The full list is available at, but here are the top five dirtiest and cleanest veggies in their collection. For the top five dirtiest, they suggest you think about buying organic. For the top five cleanest, they suggest the organic label doesn't matter.

The most likely produce to have residual pesticides, even after you wash them, appear in the following order: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, and domestic blueberries. Trace amounts of pesticide remain even after they’ve power washed the samples, so you might want to think about buying organic here. I can’t live without celery since it’s a key ingredient in most of the Cajun cooking I tend to live on and I’m particularly bummed about the blue berries, but I think I know a guy in Michigan ... . On the other hand, residual chemicals dont seem to be an issue with onions, avocados (hurray), sweet corn (thank goodness!), pineapples (seriously, whew), mango, sweet peas or asparagus. I included seven here since I know a lot of people who eat peas and asparagus, but I don’t know anyone who eats a lot of mangoes. Anyway, if you love asparagus – or mangoes – you can save a few bucks and go without the organic label.

So, this weekend I’m digging out my salad dressing shaker bottle, that salad spinner we’ve been using to drain spaghetti, and I’m planning to start dreaming in summer green instead of wintry black and white.

Grin. And so on.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monkey Business in West Bend Schools this fall?

Mary Weigand's letter to the editor this morning ignoring 200 years of science and asking us to do the same.

But will her husband, newly elected member of the school board Dave Weigand, press for curricular changes? I'm starting to pray he will.

West Bend Daily News

Science skips over catastrophes

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption in Washington state. That eruption resulted in fine and coarse volcanic ash layers from less than an inch to 600 feet deposited in seconds to hours of time. Sedimentary layers, landslides, canyons, plateaus, submerged logs similar to the petrified trees in Yellowstone and peat layers resulted. A canyon similar to and one fortieth the size of the Grand Canyon was formed. If not observed, I wonder what geologists would say about the formation of this canyon.

In 1997 a catastrophic flood in Texas cut a canyon through bedrock. I remember the devastation of my sister's home from the flood resulting in the canyon's formation. It occurred in my lifetime; the results were observable and therefore valid. See

A student I know takes earth science at the high school. The geology of earth is studied, but all the emphasis is placed on “millions of years” and uniformitarian concepts. The catastrophic model is given a mere mention, if anything. Students are taught the Grand Canyon formed 4.5 million years ago, taking millions of years. We wondered how the teacher could be so sure, especially in light of recent observed catastrophes that rapidly left sedimentary layers and canyons. Some students may not know about such catastrophes and their results. Teaching only uniformitarianism concepts is unfortunate and leads to confusion about the age of the earth.

To be considered real science, data must be observable, testable and repeatable. Eons of geologic time are only someone's guess, not real science. Catastrophes should also be taught as viable causes of what we see on the earth today.

Why not just teach the facts? After all, it’s science class.

Next year, biology. I wonder what “monkey business” will be taught there.

Mary P. Weigand Trenton

The real question is whether there'll be Monkey Business on the school board.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Graduation: for love or money.

Hi everyone,

It's that time of year again.

Saturday's column.

Graduation for love or money

The springtime of life always arrives in May carrying the promise of summer: the sun is finally shining and the leaves are finally green. Everywhere you look, high school graduations are underway. They too carry promises: the fulfillment of seeds planted years before, keys to the golden door of a better life and – whoops – getting a job.

Sorry to break up the happy mood but that’s not a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a train.

As usual at this time of year, a mob of stories about education is swarming the media. Lately, not all of the news is great. Times are tough: a new Economic Policy Institute report suggests that the class of 2010 will have “"the highest rates of unemployment in at least a generation.” Cold comfort. Worse yet, “unemployment rates for both college graduates and non-graduates younger than 25 are nearly double their pre-recession levels.”

In this economy you have a few options. You can get into the race with all those other job seekers or you can go to college. In the West Bend School District, about 50 percent of graduating high school students plan to continue into a four-year degree after graduation, and 20 to 25 percent plan to attend one of the state's tech schools. College has traditionally provided a route to a better life and to a better paying job.

Education still turns out to be a major factor in lifetime earnings. For the past few years the media typically reported the College Board calculation which showed a difference in lifetime earnings between college and high school graduates of around $800,000. You still see that figure a lot. But lately the Wall Street Journal took another look at the numbers. Factoring in increases in tuition, debt load, and salary levels from 10 years after graduation, they came up with what they called “a mere $279,893” – a lot less than a million, but it’s still a fair amount of cookie dough ice cream.

One of the other news stories circulating has to do with the insane debt levels a lot of college students seem to be accumulating. It’s important to calculate the economic costs and benefits of a college degree carefully and remember: you can’t improve your earning potential by starting your career with $200,000 in student loans. Shockingly, this isn’t difficult to do anymore: especially if you borrow in hopes of eventually earning the kind of money you could as a doctor or a lawyer.

Crushing debt is a danger if you borrow recklessly to fund a degree you hope will give you increased earning power. The traditional university system can be a trap if you’re not careful, but it looks like the new “convenience degrees” offered by for-profit universities like the University of Phoenix, can be even more hazardous to your financial, and educational, well being.

Some people want one of these drive-through degrees to cash in on the promise of increased earning power, and the for-profits are a temptingly convenient way to go, but a recent Frontline investigation on PBS found that they can cost more per credit hour than the average state university and that they seem to be putting students even deeper in the hole. They do this by hooking up students with lots of easy to get loans that, pretty quickly, sink the student into impossible, and irrecoverable, debt.

Frontline found that while these schools enroll 10 percent of all post-secondary students, they receive almost 24 percent of all federal financial aid. By itself, that might be a good investment in retraining Americans for the knowledge-based economy, but this same 10 percent is now also responsible for 44 percent of all students who default on their loans within three years of graduation.

A quick degree from a for-profit doesn’t give you any real value if it plunges you into what they’re calling “debt slavery.” These students, for all their good intentions, are wasting their time and our tax dollars.

So, you’ll have to navigate these traps: a tough employment market, working out the cost/benefit of a college degree, and being prudent with your spending. The greatest danger of all, however, lies in thinking about college education as a merely financial investment. I’m hopelessly Old School on this topic, but the argument still sounds right to me. Here it is: earning more money can improve your circumstances – a more comfy recliner, more BTUs in your AC, more horsepower in your car, more expensive shoes – but, if you think about it, earning more money doesn’t actually improve you. Money doesn’t make you a better person, it only makes you more comfortable.

It's far better to find a job you love and make enough money than it is to work at a job making lots of money that isn't satisfying. Steven Jobs, someone who knows something about making money, may have said it best: Find a job you love, and you'll never work another day in your life.

College is still the quickest route to a better financial future, so long as you don’t put yourself in a financial hole to do it. More importantly, college remains the best way to find a life you'll love living or, what those of us in the philosophy trade call, “A Good Life.” A good life is not guaranteed to make you a lot of money, but it is guaranteed to make you happy. You don’t always get to choose both love and money in life but, if you can choose one of them, remember make yourself happy.


Friday, May 21, 2010

and as always, Go Russ.

From U.S. Sen. Feingold: Statement on the financial regulatory reform bill
“The bill does not eliminate the risk to our economy posed by ‘too big to fail’ financial firms, nor does it restore the proven safeguards established after the Great Depression, which separated Main Street banks from big Wall Street firms and are essential to preventing another economic meltdown. The recent financial crisis triggered the nation’s worst recession since the Great Depression. The bill should have included reforms to prevent another such crisis. Regrettably, it did not.”

State College Republican Chair Joins Democratic Party

It is probably a generational disability, but I have never been able to understand, or accept, the possibility of a 20 year old Republican; such a thing violates the laws of nature and the revolutionary traditions of this country.

But you can't violate the law of gravity forever...

State College Republican Chair Joins Democratic Party on Eve of RPW Convention, Calls Republican Party Too Extreme for Wisconsin (5/21/10)

State Rep. Jon Richards and DPW Membership Director Sean Berger welcomed outgoing Wisconsin College Republicans Chair Lora Rae Anderson, a UW-Eau Claire Senior, officially into the Democratic Party.

Anderson spoke at a brief event at the Organizing for America Office in Milwaukee on the eve of the Republican Party of Wisconsin's State Convention. Anderson, who spoke last year at the Republican Convention in La Crosse, blasted the state party, calling it too "extreme" and saying that it is "alienating a younger, more progressive generation."

"While Republicans are busy narrowing their party to meet the approval of the extreme Tea Party, Democrats are happy to welcome young people like Lora Rae Anderson to the party," said Mike Tate, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "As Republicans continue to offer more and more extreme slogans, but no solutions, we expect more young people and working families to follow Lora's lead and abandon the Republican Party."

Getting over it: Let Students Be Themselves

"It" is a community's homophobia being washed away by good anti-harrassment policies in the high schools. Nice to be ahead of California.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reviewing the Russians...Dissent Magazine

A RUSSIAN JOKE begins with the following question: “What is communism?” To which the joke gives a simple answer: “Communism is the longest path from capitalism to capitalism.”

Dissent Magazine book reviews on the ironies of communism in the 20th century.

100 million dead and still ironic.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Scott Walker: Five more reasons to avoid him like the plague.

They had me at #1.

Five Questions for Scott Walker on His 'County' Motorcycle Tour

To my friends in China, please keep the Pajamas!!

I'd just like to go on the record, even from here in the bucolic rolling Kettle Moraine of southeastern Wisconsin, as being in favor of pajamas for daily wear in Shanghai.

The Pajama Game Closes in Shanghai -

The first time you see it with American eyes, it looks a bit silly. The second time you think "shoot, why don't *we* do that??"

Minzaoyi Shanghai!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Coffee and Tea at the same table? It's a start.

After some nicely constructive conversation with Rich Kasten I find we aren't the only people having this conversation.

From Facebook's Coffee Party notes.

"Tea and Coffee - Finding Common Ground on Changing the Political Culture"

Written by Dale Robertson, Founder of the Modern Day Tea Party and Paul Silver, Member of Coffee Party USA.

[This is the opinion of the two authors and does not represent Coffee Party's official view.]

The Conventional wisdom is that the Tea Party represents the far right and the Coffee Party Movement the left. This makes it easy to categorize and pre-judge their respective opinions, but this over-generalization is not accurate. Two of us, from seemingly different sides of the track, sat down to discover that what brings us together far exceeded what divides us: Dale Robertson the Founder of the Modern Day Tea Party and Paul Silver, a member of the Coffee Party Movement and other campaign reform groups. The Core beliefs of the Tea Party are Fiscal Responsibility, Limited Government, and Free Markets. The Coffee Party wants to promote cooperation in government, recognizing that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will". The principles are quite general.

We found each other when Dale was mentioned in an article on possible common ground with Democrats ("'We Might As Well Be Able To Vote For Disney': Tea Partiers Slam Citizens United Ruling" By Zack Roth TPM) And in a series of conversations we explored that common ground, which seemed to be agreement on the obstacles to progress on the issue that are important to us. This represents our personal conversation and doesn't necessary represent our colleagues.

First off we agreed that the inflammatory conflicts between conservatives and liberals are mostly a proxy war promoted by special interests (Insurance Companies, Banks, Trial Lawyers, Unions, etc) aiming to manipulate public opinion and public policy. A predatory special interest can not admit that it wants to dilute air and water regulations, so it backs a candidate willing to carry their water with the well funded argument that over-regulation is hurting our national competitiveness and ability to create jobs. Unions might make likewise arguments.

We agree on the solution of voluntary citizen funded campaigns to help neutralize the financial influence of predatory special interests. While making public office more accessible to citizens without connection to, or interest in, wealth. We want to expand free speech to those without access to wealth and replace a handful of bundlers with thousands of small contributors Over time our Congress would become more objective, efficient and pragmatic, instead of pandering to powerful donors. The cost of such a program is likely to be a tiny fraction of the cost of all of the unfair deals that burden our governmental budgets and waste our tax investments.. Elections should be won not bought.

We share distress at the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United. It abandoned the view that in political cases the Court should reconcile free speech with other concerns like honesty, accuracy, promoting democracy with a level playing field, and Congress's job to balance these goals. Instead, the majority framed the case entirely as a free speech issue.. It was not about the rules for the corporate role in financing elections but simply 'about political speech.'"

And we shared a concern about the lack of competition in elections because of the abuse of the political redistricting process. Partisan redistricting allows incumbents to select their constituents rather than the other way around. Safe districts allow representatives to take extreme and perhaps bribed political positions, free from the challenge by an objective voting constituency. We support non-partisan redistricting used in some States.

After laying a foundation of common ground we found that we were not that far apart on most other issues. As our conversation meandered we agreed that soldiers should be taken care of during and after their service. Our government and society should be blind to race. Illegal aliens should go to the end of the line for citizenship and scarce jobs. Gun ownership should be managed to minimize abuse by criminals and the mentally disturbed. Government shouldn't be any bigger than it has to be to provide the services we vote for. Free markets need to be also free of fraud, obscurity and predatory behavior. Lifestyle choices are not the governments business except to the extent that behavior is predatory. English should be the language for conducting government business. Taxes could and should be reduced by eliminating most exceptions, loopholes and having all of us pay our fair share. Deficits should be reduced through a combination of better managed spending and more fair revenue collections. Subsidies should be limited to those essential for the national interest. Family values of responsibility and accountability should be promoted. No doubt we will find more areas of agreement as we continue to talk.

To be sure, there were areas of disagreement: How fast should we address Climate change, Energy and Health care? What government programs are expendable? What is the appropriate balance between "survival of the fittest" and taking care of the least among us? But we think that are areas where reasonable people can disagree and the appropriate grist for a representative government free of special interest manipulation.

This is what two average citizens, looking from what at first seemed like different points on the political spectrum, discovered about ourselves when we looked past first impressions and simplistic media analysis. We were both relatively centrist when we got into the meat of the issues - sometimes liberal sometimes conservative. But certainly more aligned than the media would lead you to believe. The trick is to focus on what we have in common. Try it.

Dale Robertson -
Paul Silver -



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More bad news for the anti-Obama crowd.

Health care, women on the Supreme Court, and now lower taxes.

Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950 -

Grothman confirms diagnosis: 4th stage epistemic closure

Hi everyone,

State Senator Grothman replied to my query about whether he was just nuts, or fear mongering.

State Senator Grothman's reply

Reading Obama’s mind in his favor

This is in response to Mark Peterson’s recent column. I had written about Barack Obama’s campaign speech in July of 2008, in which he said, “We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that is just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded” as our military. In his speech, these words were a departure from the prepared text.

A lot has been written about these words but no one knows exactly what Obama had in mind. Peterson and other Obama apologists claim that he meant the Peace Corps, but that would require increasing the size of the Peace Corps by about 1,400 times ($340 million to $482 billion) from what it is today.

Furthermore, no one would call the Peace Corps a national security force, so that clearly isn’t it. The media was so in love with Obama no one forced him to explain. Can you imagine the uproar if President Bush would have said such a thing?

The radical ideas of Obama’s “czars,” the attempted nationalization of health care, and the unnecessary takeover of GM (rather than just having it re-emerge from bankruptcy) all are unprecedented in American history. Many of his allies in Congress are for the Fairness Doctrine that would censor talk radio. His allies are pushing Puerto Rican statehood, a national popular vote, a nationwide database for medical records, and a nationwide database for education records. This group that got elected in November 2008 sure has shown that the sky is the limit as far as changing America.

Last year, three congressmen introduced a bill extending the authority of civilian employees at the Defense Department to make arrests, execute warrants and carry firearms, apparently domestically. Is this what Obama meant? We don’t know and neither does Mark Peterson.

If Peterson wants to look on the Internet, he can find a lot more well known people than myself and one Georgia congressman wondering what Obama was thinking.

Sen. Glenn Grothman West Bend

So, it was epistemic closure and not fear-mongering? I admit, I'm a bit surprised.
Um, first, we do know what he has in mind, because President Obama simply said what he has in mind: expanding the Peace Corps (the best money America ever spent for foreign policy) and AmeriCorps. Simply expanding the missions of these two groups would make America more secure than 10 new divisions of Marines.

But of course, on Glenn's reasoning, we might expect something even more horrific from the President -- he might reinstitute the ... gasp... Civilian Conservation Corps.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oil disaster no surprise in Britain.

From the Guardian.

BP spends millions lobbying as it drills ever deeper and the environment pays

While the explosion of BP/Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was a horrific event, it was neither surprising nor unexpected.

BP is one of the most powerful corporations operating in the United States. Its 2009 revenues of $239bn are enough to rank BP as the third-largest corporation in the country. It spends aggressively to influence US policy and regulatory oversight.

In 2009, the company spent nearly $16m on lobbying the federal government, ranking it among the 20 highest spenders that year, and shattering its own previous record of $10.4m set in 2008. In 2008, it also spent more than $530,000 on federal elections, placing it among the oil industry's top 10 political spenders.

So, same old same old.

Is that tea keeping any of our Tea Party friends awake?


Changes to the textbooks since dinosaurs took over the School Board

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Far Right Leader Busted With Gay Escort Got Taxpayer Money from GOP Gov Candidate to Bash Gays

This just gets better and better.

Far Right Leader Busted With Gay Escort Got Taxpayer Money from GOP Gov Candidate to Bash Gays

If you’re just joining us, Rekers, a Baptist minister who worked with James Dobson to create the right-wing Family Research Council, has long been a virulently anti-gay crusader. It was interesting, then, when we learned this week that Rekers hired a young, male prostitute to join him on a European vacation last month. Rekers met his travel companion on a website devoted to connecting gay escorts with clients.

Though Rekers later said he merely counseled his companion on how to stop being gay, the escort later said the two were physically intimate.

Yesterday, however, the larger story took on a new angle. Rachel Slajda reportsthat Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R), currently a leading gubernatorial candidate, used taxpayer money to pay Rekers to bash gays.

Thank you Christian Right for taking over the GOP. I'm more scared than ever, but more entertained too. Not even Margaret Atwood could've come up with this stuff.


Sex, Lies and Oil Spills

Not "Obama's Katrina" .. this was neither Obama's nor a natural disaster. The BP spill is symptomatic of a a systematic cutback in regulation that encouraged greed to override safety.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Sex, Lies and Oil Spills

A common spin in the right wing coverage of BP's oil spill is a gleeful suggestion that the gulf blowout is Obama's Katrina.

In truth, culpability for the disaster can more accurately be laid at the Bush Administration's doorstep. For eight years, George Bush's presidency infected the oil industry's oversight agency, the Minerals Management Service, with a septic culture of corruption from which it has yet to recover. Oil patch alumnae in the White House encouraged agency personnel to engineer weakened safeguards that directly contributed to the gulf catastrophe.

And so it goes.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

School Districts cuts are only treating the symptoms.

The old Yiddish proverb goes "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail". In West Bend this translates into "To a conservative in power, the easiest way to fix the school funding problem is to simply stop funding the schools."

It's a no-brainer.

Obviously, since if you had a brain, you wouldn't do it.

Saturday's column.

Cure needed
School cuts would only treat the symptoms

When teachers in West Bend agreed to a pay freeze last week, they bought the district a little time before the budget goes under the knife – but I’m still worried about the surgeons we elected. The most recent board members won with the promise to cure the school district's financial anemia by cutting to the bone. They reminded me of old-time doctors who believed bleeding the patient would cure everything. But look: It's no good to say the operation was a success if you kill the patient, and it’s no good to treat the symptoms without addressing the disease.

The May 2 Chronicle of Higher Education carried an article by Janice M. Abraham (president of United Educators, a risk-management and insurance company) highlighting four areas that universities need to avoid cutting despite the economic squeeze affecting education. These suggestions apply as well to our local financial distress and argue that, rather than cut with abandon, the school board needs to think carefully about how and whether to proceed.

Abraham emphasizes the legal risks: how reckless cutting can increase a school’s exposure to liability claims. For instance, she recommends that schools avoid cutting staff training and support, proper development of infrastructure for new programs and a West Bend School District favorite: maintenance. Cuts to any of these areas can increase the district’s legal liability.

Let’s take maintenance as an example.

Cutting the actual maintenance budget or, more subtly, cutting the staff levels required to properly maintain the buildings and grounds, can lead not only to deteriorating buildings (a bone of contention in past referendums) but also – and I don’t remember hearing this aspect debated – to an increase in injury related lawsuits. Abraham mentions snow and ice left on the sidewalks, burned-out light bulbs left unchanged, water on the floor that can’t be mopped up right away, and frayed carpets that significantly increase the likelihood of tripping or falling – and the lawsuits that follow. It only takes a few of these to bankrupt a district.

We have to hope that the board will not make cuts that are penny wise but pound foolish. Such cuts would only create more financial stress.

Unfortunately, by itself, cutting the budget will only treat the symptoms of our financial ailment. The underlying disease is a systemic, and double-fisted, political problem.

Fist No. 1: Our federal government now works harder for billionaires than it does for the rest of us. Alternet recently reported that the 25 top Wall Street hedge fund managers made about $25 billion in 2009, enough to pay for 658,000 entry level teachers. Put another way, we live in a country that believes funneling tax dollars to 25 hedge fund managers is more important than hiring 658,000 new teachers.

There’s not much we can do about fist No. 1 except, maybe, stop electing millionaires to Congress. One thing we must do, however, is stop lying to ourselves about how much more important it is to keep these guys in swimming pools and private jets than it is to do whatever is necessary to provide a first rate education for our kids. American kids need an education that will allow them to compete against kids from China and India. Call me a commie, but providing ski chalets in Aspen for a few dozen rich Americans instead of funding schools seems like a lousy trade off.

Anyway, doing something about the conservative commitment to concentrating wealth in even fewer hands is a tough treatment option. I’m not sure we have the stomach for it – too many Americans still dream that one day they too will own a ski chalet in Aspen and put a few hundred thousand teachers out of work.

But don’t despair: we can tackle fist No. 2. The financial disease afflicting West Bend's school district is well understood. It is not the result of overspending and is not caused by anything cuts alone can fix. As we heard, ad nauseum, during last year’s referendum, the district is already one of the most efficiently run in the state. No, our financial distress is caused by the inequitable funding structure in Madison that takes away our tax-dollars and redistributes them to school districts in Waukesha, Elm Grove and Brookfield.

Why are your tax dollars going to Brookfield instead of coming back to you in the form of a properly funded school district? Because the Legislature says so, that’s why – and that’s where we really need to start cutting. The solution is within reach. The only way to cure the school district’s funding problem is to elect representatives to Madison who will do what’s necessary to bring that funding – our own tax dollars – back to us.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sensenbrenner picks a fake-expert as the GOP's sole expert in global warming hearings.

Oh, and it's way better than that. Our own Representative Sensenbrenner picked him -- a perfect alliance of Republican, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Family, and of course, the global warming denial industry.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Ranking Minority Member of the committee, chose Monckton as the Republican’s sole witness at the hearing.

Of all the people in the world the GOP could call to testify, they chose Christopher (not-really-a-Lord) Monckton, a non-scientist with a diploma in journalism studies and a knack for tramplingGodwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies.

Monckton called American college students advocating for clean energy the “Hitler Youth” and “Nazis” during his crazed rampage at the Americans For Prosperity event at the Copenhagen climate summit. Monckton repeated the "Hitler Youth" comments directly to me in an interview the following day, and then took it way too far when he told Jewish student Ben Wessel, whose grandparents escaped the Holocaust, “I am not going to shake the hand of Hitler youth.” Despiteextensive video evidence, Monckton went on to lie to the Associated Press, claiming that he never uttered those words.

At the Tax Day Tea Party in D.C. last month, Monckton opened his speech with a 'joke' suggesting that President Obama was born in Kenya. Monckton previously called President Obama a“monster” during his speech at a GOP fundraiser in Wisconsin, which followed another of his paid appearances for Americans for Prosperity.

In a 1987 article for the American Spectator titled the The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, Monckton wrote that:

.... there is only one way to stop AIDS. That is to screen the entire population regularly and to quarantine all carriers of the disease for life. Every member of the population should be blood-tested every month ... all those found to be infected with the virus, even if only as carriers, should be isolated compulsorily, immediately, and permanently.

Thanks Jim. You just keep making things easier on everyone.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Christian "right" marches on ... with gay escorts.

Maybe there are other "things" the Christian Right don't want anyone to know.

Family Research Council Founder Hired Gay Escort For Vacay Fun

Miami’s New Times weekly is out with a blockbuster story about George Alan Rekers, a founder (with James Dobson) of the Family Research Council, and his European vacation with an “assistant” he hired on the gay escort service Web site, (Warning: Rentboy site is graphically sexual.)

And thanks to the Family Research Council for all this delicious candy.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Senator Grothman's epistemic closure.

Hi everyone,

I got started blogging and writing columns almost entirely because Senator Glenn Grothman writes press releases. I assumed that none of his constituents were actually reading these things because, if they were, there's no way they would ever vote for the guy.

I was, of course, completely wrong about part 2.

The original headline was "Senator Grothman's epistemic closure"... too scary, probably.

And so, a 720 word excursion into the Great Wide Empty that is the political vision of Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman.

Senator Know
Grothman invites us to put on security corps blinders

Philosophy doesn’t often make the national news, but during the last few weeks Washington heavy-hitter political wonks have been throwing around the phrase “epistemic closure” like a hammer, like napalm, like brass knuckles.

The real definition from logical set theory is a bit complicated for a Saturday morning paper, but the political meaning here boils down roughly to this: Don’t get closed in by your own worldview or, more colloquially, the goldfish doesn’t always remember it’s in a bowl.

Julian Sanchez from the libertarian Cato Institute started things rolling when he trotted out this phrase from his undergraduate philosophy days as a clever way to describe the “ideological intolerance and misinformation” currently infecting conservative rhetoric. Many conservatives, he noted “have developed a distorted sense of priorities and a tendency to engage in fantasy.”

When a guy from the Cato Institute blows the whistle on current rhetorical excesses – like the birther and death panel fantasies – you have to pay attention. Even Bruce Bartlett, an old hand with impeccable Republican credentials, a man who worked for Reagan and G.H.W. Bush, has suggested that the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation have gone from “presenting informed policy analyses to pumping out propaganda.”

None of this is surprising to anyone from the left of Attila the Hun, but it is refreshing to hear a thoughtful and coherent conservative voice say “enough.”

That’s national news but, locally, Sen. Glenn Grothman provided a first-rate specimen of epistemic closure in his April 16 press release following the tax day Tea Party protest in Madison.

He trumpets that in July 2008 candidate Obama promised to create a civilian national security force as powerful and well funded as the military. Grothman then twists a quote or two to make it sound as if Obama was planning to organize some form of sinister national security Gestapo rather than expand AmeriCorps and – watch out America! – the Peace Corps, which is what Obama was explicitly referring to in the speech Grothman cites (one given at the University of Colorado).

“My constituents,” claims Grothman, “are demanding the Legislature fight back.”

Well, not all of us. Personally, I’m not worried about the Peace Corps being turned into Black Shirts – but I am interested in whether Grothman’s press release is an example of epistemic closure or merely political fear-mongering. tracked down this particular misrepresentation to a November 2008 interview given by Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia to the Associated Press in which he warns that President Obama was planning to organize a Marxist security force to place America under a totalitarian dictatorship. It wasn’t difficult to find a mountain of press releases and clarifications about this story, so I have to wonder why Grothman felt compelled to issue a press release about a story he must know is nonsense, a year and a half after a Georgia congressman played political origami with an otherwise perfectly mundane stump speech?

If Grothman does not believe what he’s written in his press release, then these bits of borrowed political excess are simply irresponsible mechanisms designed to stir up politically exploitable fear. If, on the other hand, we take him at his word and assume Grothman does believe what he’s written – a notion almost impossible to accept considering anyone can go online and read the original speech – then this would be a perfect example of epistemic closure: The goldfish’s angry insistence that its little bowl is the whole world.

In either case, Grothman’s freedom of speech – or his freedom to spend our tax dollars writing irresponsible and ludicrous press releases – does not mean he has the right to impose his epistemic limitations on anyone else. We don’t have to climb into the bowl with him.

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Dunk me for a good cause: The fundraiser for victims of the fire at the Stonebridge apartments is being held between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday at Jansen Family Park, LLC. (3745 Schuster Drive, West Bend, WI 53095; 334-0429). The organizer tells me that they’ll have a bouncy house, a silent auction, Cousins subs, a fire truck from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and lots of other games for the kids. The administrator from Samaritan will be taking pies in the face and, I’ll be a sitting in the dunk tank from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. I imagine a few readers might like to dunk me for a good cause. Come on out this Sunday and lend your neighbors a hand.

Here's a link to the original "press release." It's actually a bit worse than I was able to capture in a few sentences.

And so it goes.