Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party, and West Bend Schools.

It'll be interesting to see whether the cockroaches start to run now that the media have (finally) switched on the lights.

Op-Ed Columnist - The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party -

Despite what the membership believes, the Tea Party backers believe it's all about profits.

Also interesting is the anti-public education mobilization in Washington County's Common Sense (sic) Citizens cadre, most of whom seem to be members of American's for Prosperity, the Koch Bros' major front organization. This parrots the Koch party line. As Rich notes in his column this week, Koch has a long interest in getting rid of public schools:

When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed. As Mayer details, Koch-supported lobbyists, foundations and political operatives are at the center of climate-science denial — a cause that forestalls threats to Koch Industries’ vast fossil fuel business. While Koch foundations donate to cancer hospitals like Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, Koch Industries has been lobbying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying another product important to its bottom line, formaldehyde, as a “known carcinogen” in humans (which it is).

Daylight also, apparently, trickles down. Finally.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

GOP Funding Octopus - Many tentacles, same groups

Follow the money.

As usual.

GOP Funding Octopus - Many tentacles, same groups | Crooks and Liars

Neumann and Walker morally challenged on abortion.

Hi everyone,

I've been fascinated for some time now by the radical swing to the right taken by Republicans over the past 30 years. I like to joke that, these days, even Barry Goldwater would be characterized as a RINO.

This is no longer a joke. Local candidates for governor have adopted a position on abortion that isn't conservative in any meaningful sense of that word. It is conceptually dissonant in ways that would make Arnold Schoenberg reach for the morphine.

Their positions are better characterized as puritanical -- an increasingly popular position.

And so it goes.

Saturday's column.

Neumann, Walker misguided on abortion issue

As a measure of how far today's so-called conservatives have drifted (or been stampeded) away from traditional conservative values, consider that Mark Neumann and Scott Walker hold positions on abortion that make Barry Goldwater look like a moderate or, these days, a socialist. Personally, I side with Sen. Goldwater. I suspect a lot of moderate Republicans still do. Goldwater believed abortion is a matter that belongs to the sphere of personal choice and not government intervention.

Digging through Neumann and Walker's campaign materials you'd guess they contain the usual promises about fighting for the rights of un-born people — since it's a promise they'll never actually have to keep once those people are post-born. What is surprising, however, is that both candidates have consistently introduced legislation to let government make moral and medical decisions for Americans.

What strikes me as most incongruous about this is that both Neumann and Walker claim they want government to stay out of public matters (like regulating economic hooliganism that could, for instance, crash the world's economy), and intervene in personal matters, like family planning.

Frankly, this isn't conservative, although it seems to be popular in some circles.

While in the Legislature, Scott Walker sponsored bills most moderates would characterize as whoppers in the anti-women's-health category. Four of his bills in 2002 (AB 55, 168, 360, and 831) stepped over the line. These bills would have denied women insurance coverage for birth control, allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill women's birth control prescriptions, allowed doctors to withhold medical information and refuse to provide routine prenatal tests to women, and last, but not least, eliminated prevention-based family planning health services for low income women. It's hard to imagine more effective ways to strip the rights of women in Wisconsin to have the kind of families they'd like. It's even stranger to see someone who claims to be a conservative putting government in the role of making those decisions for Wisconsin families.

These examples are bad enough, but weirder still is Walker's support of Scott Southworth, the Juneau County district attorney. Southworth is the DA who promised to go after teachers who complied with the Healthy Youth Act. Supporting a district attorney who threatens teachers when they obey the law is not the sort of thing you want in a governor — and for reasons that go way beyond the single issue of reproductive freedom.

So much for Walker, who tried to put women on a short leash here at home. Mark Neumann tried the same shenanigans back in the mid-1990s at the national level in the US Congress. Here are some highlights. He voted to restrict family planning programs in the world’s poorest countries, eliminate funding for family planning programs here in the U.S., and ban abortion procedures even when a woman's health was in danger.

Pro-Life Wisconsin, which opposed the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Act and opposes not only abortions (under absolutely any circumstances) but even the use of birth control — which their test marketing has cleverly redefined as a kind of pre-emptive abortion (since, after all, it does prevent the conception of what might become a human being) — has endorsed both of these guys.

The easiest way to eliminate the issue of abortion is to eliminate unexpected pregnancies. The best way to do that is through adequate and well established birth control education programs. So why do people who want to stop abortion also want to avoid the very thing that would prevent abortions? Maybe because tugging on heart strings to win elections is more important than being ethically coherent.

And if straightforward ethical questions like these go unanswered by candidates for governor, do we really want to put them in command of a government they've demonstrated they'd use to intervene in our private lives to impose their own muddled answers? Sen. Goldwater thought this was a bad place for government to interfere with the freedom of Americans. What was good enough for the father of American conservatism is now being tossed under the bus by his misguided and morally challenged heirs.

To put it mildly.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back to school leaving smaller footprints.

Hi everyone,

Watching the stores pile up supplies for the back-to-school frenzy made me wonder about environmental impact of cheap paper and plastic funneled into backpacks across the country.

The hidden dimension here is actually cuts in state funding to schools. The sorts of things that now show up on school district school supply lists are items that the schools were once able to supply.

In the meantime, however, Saturday's column.

Going green when going back to school
While these steps mostly won’t affect your child’s grades, the environment will love it

As the kids head back to school this month, and young parents recapture some quiet time during the day, here are some options for those who want to lighten their carbon footprint.

First, stop driving your kids to school when you only live four blocks away. Make them walk with each other or ride their bikes. Organize a “walking bus” or “safe routes to school” program. When I wrote about this back in April 2009, the school district was “exploring” the idea. Maybe it’d save the district money on buses? In any case, it’ll certainly save you money on gas.

Second, double check the pencils and pens on your school supplies requirement lists for the words sustainable or recycled. It’s possible to find pencils made from old newspapers these days, and you can even find ball point pens made from recycled materials.

Third, try to avoid buying anything made with PVC No. 3. It shows up in notebook covers, backpacks, art supplies and lunch boxes – besides, these days, our old metal lunch boxes have quite an indy-fashion punch as well, so if you still have your Spiderman or Green Lantern lunchbox, recycle it into the next generation. Of course, if you need the dough, you can probably make a killing selling it on eBay and then fall back on what our moms did: reuse brown paper bags. I may have used the same three or four brown bags for most of high school. For notebooks and paper, check for recycled paper and covers with at least 30 percent post-consumer waste (PCW) and, better, paper that wasn’t whitened with chlorine bleach.

One nice thing about brown bags is that there’s not much room for bottled water which, fourth, is a wildly self-indulgent and nonsensical cultural addiction we need to break. Every survey done by both government and private consumer protection groups shows that municipal tap water in the United States is safe, just as tasty and a lot cheaper. If you feel the need to send a bottle of water with your youngster to school, find a BPA-free plastic, BPA-free aluminum or stainless steel water bottle and top it off from the tap.

Fifth, I found a number of lists recommending ways to alleviate the annual environmental impact of buying school supplies, but one from the Environmental Working Group actually included recommendations about cell phones. Cell phones? The fact that this even appears in their list tells me I’m completely out of touch with the lives of contemporary 6-year-olds, a lot of whom, apparently, have cell phones. (Full disclosure: I don’t have one of those demon phones yet and don’t plan to get one.) The EWG recommends a phone with a lower radiation (or SAR) value. While current testing indicates no relation between cell phone use and cancer, there is a very high correlation between in-class cell phone use and annoyed-teacher-syndrome – a condition that can have a lasting effect on your child’s grade point average. Best advice: Teach your child to turn the phone OFF before class.

Sixth, consider a backpack made from natural fiber or, again, at least one that avoids PVCs.

And seven, be sure it doesn’t weigh so much that your student stops growing. I wrote a column last year about the increasing weight and heft of backpacks after I saw a line of fourthgraders on their way to school bent beneath their packs like Sherpas on the last push up Everest. The situation is unchanged and this year’s National Backpack Awareness Day, sponsored by the American Occupational Therapy Association, is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Frankly, if the nation actually requires an increased backpack awareness then we’re really overloading the kids.

Here are the grisly details: a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study found that more than 75 percent of students ages 8 to 12 now suffer from increasing back pain caused by schlepping around their school backpacks. Consumer Reports found that sixth-graders were carrying backpacks that weighed, on average, 18.4 pounds – but it wasn’t surprising to find kids carrying as much as 30 pounds. How could this happen? Here’s one part of the answer: a 2003 report by Texas A&M University System Health Science Center College of Medicine found that 96 percent of parents had never checked the weight of their child’s backpack; 34 percent had never even checked the contents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school backpacks should never weigh more than 20 percent of your child’s total body weight.

Our future goes back to school next week. Let’s lighten that burden, along with their environmental impact, when they do.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ginny Maziarka attempts to rewrite history?

Our colleagues over at Fear and Loathing made a great catch.

Looks like Ginny is trying to rewrite West Bend's entry on Wikipedia. Wonder what she'll try to change?

Fear and Loathing in West Bend: Ginny Maziarka attempts to rewrite history?

I guess Racine isn't keeping her occupied sufficiently.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More flying monkeys.

Another reader misses the point.

Personally I'm not happy about crazily spending Congresses, and the current bunch are all Democrats -- but notice how the letter ignores the key idea: that Republicans are not thrifty in the way the right wing goldfish bowl believes.

Nonetheless, the flying monkeys seem to be distracting everyone.

Credit Dems for latest $3 trillion debt

Let’s see now, according to Mark Peterson’s latest ravings, a commercial about this country’s $3 trillion debt is not only propaganda, it’s Republican-backed.

Not once is the word, “Republican,” spoken. So my guess is Mr. Peterson has some inside information or he’s somewhat embarrassed that his Democrat buddies are the ones who gave us this debt.

Actually, my take on this ad was exactly what it was – an ad to tell all politicians to quit digging us into a deeper hole.

If a $3 trillion debt is just a case of propaganda, I wonder what amount Mr. Peterson would consider an actual debt: $10 trillion, $20 trillion? Or maybe he’s waiting for a whole new number yet to be named.

He also attacks Rick Berman’s attack of ACORN, an “advocacy” group that’s been charged with so many illegal activities it makes you wonder if Mr. Peterson was a major contributor.

No matter what spin Mr. Peterson puts on what he calls “truthy facts,” the fact is it took a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass the huge spending bills and a Democrat president to sign them – no ifs, ands or buts about it.

So Mr. Peterson, after reading your column about flying monkeys providing entertaining political distraction, it seems to me you’re the one trying to distract from your Democrats who gave us this $3 trillion – and still climbing – debt.

Lionel Remillard Allenton

Ron Johnson thinks sun spots cause global warming...

--because being a millionaire means your opinions are better than science.

Sunspots: Ron Johnson, Unplugged

Electing this guy would be exactly the same as hiring a doctor because the doctor had enough money to buy an MD.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Affordable housing, the newest threat to West Bend.

Hi everyone,

We've had some weirdness about a new affordable housing project going into downtown West Bend on an old railroad switching yard -- a classic brownfield development.

One of our alderpeople saw the phrase "low income" and stirred up the pot.

And thus, Saturday's Column

West Bend’s latest tea-cup-tempest arrived last weekend in the form of an anonymous flyer addressed to residents of District 7. It looked exactly like a big anonymous ad in the West Bend Daily News on Saturday. Both opposed the long awaited River Bluffs town-home development in TIF district 5.

If you’ve seen the flyer, or the ad, you know it opposes a housing development that city council just approved. The project has been percolating for over a year, but it’s only been boiling over for the last few months. Once you drain the air out of the irritability that’s been stirred up, you can fit the entire debate in a kid’s sippy cup. That’s because all the irritability and animosity seem to be based entirely on a misunderstanding.

The short version of this micro-controversy is that a real estate development company from St. Paul put in an offer with the city to develop some of the old railroad lands to the east of the Milwaukee River. You know, the stretch that’s been empty for 10 years. I find myself uneasily but happily rising to the defense of Tony Turner who recommended it to his colleagues on the city council as a member of the redevelopment authority. Everything looked pretty good and the process went forward -- and then someone used the phrase “low income housing” and everyone freaked out.

“Low income” housing aroused fears of crime and drugs and violence and, if the city council meeting I watched is any indication, a kind of racist hysteria that made me wonder whether we were in Wisconsin or Arizona. And all of this, other than exposing a dark underbelly of fear and resentment in some West Bend residents, serves no purpose. It’s based entirely on a misunderstanding. Whether that misunderstanding is accidental or calculated, you’ll have to judge.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) makes tax credits available for projects like this one and the official WHEDA description is “low income housing tax credits”. The words “low income” appear in the phrase, all right, but this is bureaucratic argot, the dizzying slang of political administrivia. When you take bureaucratese literally, you’re bound to get into trouble -- or cause it. A better label, one that accurately describes this planned neighborhood is “affordable” or, even better, “work force housing”. We have plenty of examples of exactly this kind of housing in West Bend already.

These apartments are identical in funding and rental structure to the Amity apartments directly across from Badger middle school as well as the Enger Kress independent living facility next door to the selected site. You’d be rather hard pressed to suggest that the affordable housing in either of those locations was bad for West Bend -- quite the contrary. We need the housing for people in that price range.

In fact, the West Bend Economic Development Corporation sent in a letter of support, and for excellent, perfectly obvious, reasons. Affordable housing, the kind that a working family can afford, is a key component in economic development. If we only have $200,000-300,000 homes available, no one earning an average wage in West Bend could afford to live here. Look at it another way, the project has to follow WHEDA standards so the apartments have to be affordable to people earning 50-60% of the median income here; that means affordable for people earning about $32,000 a year. In what universe is $32,000 a year “low-income”?

Since this is a WHEDA project, a whole series of other safeguards are in place. There are, for instance, checks for criminal records whenever the rent is renewed and it is much easier to evict -- something nearly impossible under normal Wisconsin rental law. So much for the scary misrepresentations of this project as “low income.” It’s simply the kind of affordable housing most working people in West Bend can afford.

There is one other detail that should get everyone’s attention: that empty land costs us $500,000 a year, paid out of our property taxes. Remember, TIF 5 was environmentally contaminated and essentially unusable. The city needed to borrow money to buy and then remediate the land -- expenses incurred even before rolling the dice that we’d be able to sell it for development and pay off the bond. The economy is pretty tough right now, and we have urgent priorities that require our precious tax dollars more than an empty brownfield.

There is one apartment complex in town that does fit the knee jerk rightwinger stereotype of government subsidized housing, a Housing and Urban Development project right out of the heart of the crazed liberal agenda: Meadowbrook Manor. Even this den of iniquity has brought remarkably little crime to West Bend -- unless the senior citizens in there are running a secret meth lab and staging late night ecstasy-soaked raves the police undercover units haven’t penetrated yet.

We cannot afford not to have affordable housing.


Friday, August 13, 2010

A reader disagrees about the flying monkeys.

Monte Schmeige, one of my favorite critics, disagreed with my observations about who is pulling the wool over his eyes.

WB news 8.13.10


Flying monkeys column- par for the radical course

Professor Mark Peterson entertained us with stories about flying moneys in Saturday’s paper. While ridiculing the Employment Policies Institute, he monkeyfied Republicans, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, the wealthy, tea party groups and others. He follows the Saul Alinsky Rules for Radicals. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

It’s pretty clear the professor is a big fan of government spending. He is a beneficiary, after all. He pooh-poohs any notion that growing debt is a problem. He says only Republican presidents have increased debt since 1945. Let’s see, why leave out Franklin D. Roosevelt or Barack H. Obama? Oh, I'm sure he would say they were just cleaning up after Republicans. Never mind that the president doesn’t write the spending bills or create the “business cycle” of boom and bust all by themselves.

Following the professor’s logic, why not double or triple the national debt? Since higher minimum wages are good, in his view, why not double or triple those as well? And why not limit income to $250,000, maximum.

He denounces free markets, something we haven't had much of since the Wild West. He’s clearly a “progressive,” someone who loves to give and take. Behind a mask, it’s called robbery. Behind a desk, it’s called justice.

My favorite is his claim that the rich, by opposing tax cuts, put the deficit, debt and the rest of us in a deeper hole. Which is it, professor? Are you in favor of debt or not? The rich put us in a deeper hole? I thought it was Congress that spends, excepting presidential vacations.

I’m not happy with Republican or Democrat spending, and I expect better after the November elections. It frightens me to think Professor Peterson is teaching in our university. Teaching what?

Monte Schmeige West Bend

It is true, I'm afraid, that teaching students to read difficult old books does teach them to think critically -- certainly the most threatening kind of thinking in Mr. Schmeige's universe.


Saturday, August 07, 2010

Dr. Evil brings flying monkeys to Wisconsin.

Hi everybody,

This season's political hyno-meme from the right wing will be the national debt since... well, they can't run on anything they've actually said or done in the past decade.

I noticed that a bunch of local Republican politicians in Wisconsin began using it all at the same time, and then a few commercials appeared with debt as their central theme: again, at the same time.

So, looks like debt is the drum beat for this year's Republican lock stepping. It is, of course, a wedge issue disguised as accounting.

Saturday's column.

You know the political season is getting started when you catch sight of your very first flying monkey. It lets you know the migration is underway. More are coming. This year’s first flying monkey is a Republican talking point and it appeared in a cute commercial I saw last week.

It shows Uncle Sam digging a big hole. A voice says the national debt is too big. A little girl appears at the edge of the hole and asks Uncle Sam to stop digging. The end. Looks good, right? Too much debt is bad for the country. I’m nodding and starting to consider sending in my Tea Party membership form -- until the fine print appeared. The commercial was financed by something called the Employment Policies Institute. Hmm, says me. Where there’s flying monkeys there’s usually a wicked witch.

There is.

This flying monkey will be the first of many howling about the national debt. The national debt will be this year’s OJ Simpson trial. Like all effective propaganda, it’ll be diverting but irrelevant, make some of the participants lots of money, and will be designed to circumvent the public interest.

Mainly, this year, howling about national debt is intended to give us all amnesia. The Republican Party needs to make the rest of us forget that they have no new ideas, that everything they’ve said in the last 2 years is a retread of the same economic policies that put us in the current mess we’re in. Maybe the Tea Party needs a new flag that says “Don’t Re-Tread on Me!” I’d fly that one.

For nearly 30 years Republicans have clung to an economic model grounded in the Wild West and an ethics grounded in Greed is Good, and they aren’t going to sober up just because they crashed the entire economy two years ago. Even though David Stockman (Ronald Reagan’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget) and Alan Greenspan have come out against current Republican economic strategies, nobody in the Party apparently wants to hear “last call” on the Bush Tax-Holiday they’ve been enjoying. The best way to keep the party going is to make sure that their owners, the wealthiest 1% of Americans, continue to enjoy the good life -- even if that means putting the deficit, and our national debt, and the rest of us, into an even deeper hole.

Just like in the commercial. Get it?

It’s perfect Rovian misdirection. They’re going to distract everyone this year by blaming Democrats for the national debt even though, historically, Republicans have not demonstrated any more restraint on spending than Democrats.

The distraction is already working.

I’m afraid even Mr. Gannon, who appeared in a guest editorial last week to take issue with my column on Senator Feingold’s record of fiscal responsibility, has been taken in by this attractively howling propaganda. He wrote that after 2006, while Democrats were in control of Congress, the national debt increased dramatically -- and from this it's clear that the national debt is the Democrats' fault, right?

Only partially. The observation is accurate but it’s more truthy, as Steven Colbert would say, than true. It overlooks the fact that although Congress passes bills, only a President can sign them into law.

What about Presidents and the national debt?

If we map US Presidents against increases to the national debt, in point of truthy fact, we find that the largest increases in history took place under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. In fact, since 1945, as a percentage of GDP, the national debt has NEVER INCREASED when a Democrat was President of the United States.


Weird, right? I know. And yet, there it is.

That is how flying monkeys work.

It’s enough to make you wonder about what’s true -- and that’s where we all have to begin: we have to wonder about what’s true and then go find out.

But there are people who want to make this difficult for us and one of those people created that new commercial on the national debt. He isn’t a witch, so far as I know, but back in July 2007, 60 Minutes called him “Dr. Evil”.

His name is Rick Berman.

Mr. Berman operates over 15 ‘advocacy’ groups to promote the interests of his clients. He got his start working for the tobacco industry. He has a couple of anti-union websites, one specifically targeting teachers unions for working against the interests of teachers. There’s a monkey with wings on it. Oh, and one called “PETA kills animals” and a group that fights tightening laws against drunk driving. He was also the first to attack ACORN, on behalf of the restaurant industry, because ACORN supported a minimum wage the food industry opposed. And remember that flying monkey about minimum wages actually hurting the poor? That was one of his. In fact, the idea that a minimum wage is bad for the poor and would actually drive the poor out of the job market is the operational theme for the Employment Policies Institute, the same “group” that sponsored that cute flying monkey of a defeat-the-debt commercial. [They've already released a second commercial in Wisconsin this week.]

So, be careful around the flying monkeys this year. They aren’t dangerous by themselves, but they are distracting and, while you’re caught by the spectacle, one of them is likely to grab Toto.

And remember, they don’t work for you.



Thursday, August 05, 2010

Two childhood novels.

‎"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's
life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish
fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable
heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood,
unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves
orcs." --John Rogers

Monday, August 02, 2010

Republicans Want to Keep Their Bush Tax Cuts and They'll Stomp Their Feet Until They Get Them | Video Cafe

Republicans Want to Keep Their Bush Tax Cuts and They'll Stomp Their Feet Until They Get Them

One of the resounding themes we heard from the talking heads last week was the we need to keep those Bush tax cuts in place and that if they're allowed to expire, it's going to harm small business and the "job creators".

Bob Cesca passed on this graph from the Wall Street Journal of all places that illustrates just who those tax cuts have benefited and who they're going to harm if they're allowed to expire without a fix, like our middle class. As the chart shows you have to be making $300,000 a year or so before allowing them to expire starts to hit you.

Republicans have done nothing but shamelessly stood up for their ultra-rich campaign donors.

As expected.

Except this time, for some reason, people are starting to notice.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

More right wing populist pandering about taxes.

Zakaria: Raise My Taxes, Mr. President! - Newsweek

The idea that the average American is overtaxed is a nice piece of populist pandering. In fact, federal taxes as a percentage of the economy are at their lowest level since the presidency of Harry Truman. Chuck Marr and Gillian Brunet of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have calculated that a family of four at the exact middle of the income spectrum will pay only 4.6 percent of its income in taxes. Remember, almost half of the country pays no income taxes at all. The top 3 percent of Americans contribute almost 50 percent of federal income taxes.

And largely because we've squeezed the bottom wage earners so hard over the past 30 years that they don't have the money anyway. Maybe the media are waking up?

Hmm. Survey says?


Alan Greenspan: Extending Bush Tax Cuts Without Paying For Them Could Be 'Disastrous'

As suspected.

Alan Greenspan: Extending Bush Tax Cuts Without Paying For Them Could Be 'Disastrous'

Four Deformations of the Apocalypse: how the Republicans destroyed the American Economy.

David Stockman was right about all of this back in 1981 when he was taken to the wood shed by Reagan for telling the truth. He's righter now.

Op-Ed Contributor - Four Deformations of the Apocalypse -