Tuesday, March 29, 2011

School Choice, Drug Testing, and Santorum

Well, there's a lot going on, so this blog post presents a trifecta of insight:

First and foremost, school choice. I've been in favor of competition in schools, and have openly stated on more than one occasion how I am in favor of school choice vouchers, provided the religious institutions are kept out. The reason is basic, and fair: tax dollars should not be spent on indoctrination of a child into a particular religion on the pretext of basic education. Especially on the pretext of basic education!

But now, the numbers are in. After all its haughty promises, the school choice program has produced even lower test scores than MPS!

That's like a recently signed free-agent NFL quarterback actually under-performing Ryan Leaf!

Perhaps the private schools were under-prepared, and their teachers too little paid, to deal with the sudden influx of inner city students needing to play catch-up with the private school kids, and so the voucher students were simply ignored in favor of those parents who were paying out of pocket. This explanation makes the most economic sense. It's a little bit like low-rent housing having buildings that are treated worse than high-rent housing. You pay attention to that which you actually pay for. Conversely, you care more about those who actually pay. Or, perhaps after the vouchers were given, the parents chose the school, and then figured their job was done, problem solved, and went back to their old habits of apathy. Or, perhaps because the suburban schools were not a part of the program, the only private schools willing to take voucher students were institutions such as Messmer High, which frankly sucks.

A combination of all these factors is likely to blame, and maybe a few others. But whatever the reasons, one thing is clear: School choice is a failed experiment. It's been tried here, Boston, and D.C., and it has never worked. Pushing the poverty-stricken student into a private school where an under-paid administration hasn't the experience, skills, or willingness to help simply isn't the solution.

So why violate the separation between church and state for this failure?

You'll find that many politicians will remain firmly committed to school choice anyway, because more tax dollars spent on indoctrinating kids into Catholicism or Lutheranism translates to more votes for their variety of politician tomorrow. It's an investment in tomorrow's political economy.

Which brings me to my second rant: Rick Santorum.

In a recent trip to New Hampshire (Oh please run for president you fool! Please, please!) the former Senator from Pennsylvania stated that much of our Social Security woes can be blamed on abortion. The problem, he says, is that there aren't enough people being added to the population to sustain the retiring old people, and this has made the system unsustainable. We need less abortion, and more people, to save Social Security.

Of course! It's abortion's fault! What better to take the focus off of government overspending on entitlements and the military?

I shouldn't even need to deal with the logical fallacy of designing a system to be dependent upon worsening the looming population crisis. And if we really need more people to save Social Security, we can do that tomorrow by providing a fast-track for Mezzo-American immigrants and undocumented workers to become U.S. citizens. Of course, Santorum won't hear of that, so he blames responsible contraception.

Here's the economic reality: More teenage pregnancies means more mothers and kids living below the poverty line, which means less tax revenue for Social Security. On the other hand, fewer children, born later in life, means their parents are more economically secure, and can pay MORE money into the Social Security kitty!

An investment in proper birth control is an investment in the economy and Social Security of tomorrow, every bit as much as investing in childhood religious indoctrination is an investment in the Republican party of tomorrow!

It's pretty simple economics, really. Santorum's logic might work if every kid, unwed mother or not, were guaranteed an equal, and equitable, income as an adult. But, of course, that sadly isn't the case. Incomes are unequal, and an unplanned pregnancy is a virtual guarantee of permanent exile to the lowest rung. Unless Santorum wants to tax the poor, that's no solution to Social Security.

But some politicians actually do want to tax the poor! It comes in the form of drug testing.

What some supposedly small-government politicians want to do is drug test all welfare recipients. Never mind the fundamental right to be able to put anything one wishes into one's body, or the failed prohibition of cannabis which is every bit as idiotic as the one-time prohibition against alcohol. These geniuses would withhold welfare recipients any payments if they test positive for drug use.

In Florida, state employees are already undergoing mandatory drug testing.

Now, the 4th amendment strictly prevents unreasonable searches and seizures, and blanket drug-testing would certainly qualify. We're supposed to have probable cause before a drug test is done, which is why nearly all companies only require drug testing at time of hire, or if an accident on the job has occurred. (They know random tests can be legally challenged.) But somehow, enough legal wiggle-room has been found to test people and violate their rights anyway.

George Orwell would be proud.

All that would be enough to oppose this shit even if drug testing worked, which it doesn't! Case in point: Let's say a drug test were 95% accurate. Out of a population of 10,000 employees, let's say that 5% of them actually do drugs, that is, 500 people do drugs, and 9,500 do not.

Of the 9500 who do not do drugs, a 95% accurate test will test 9250 as non-using, but 475 will test as users (5% of 9500), even though they're clean. Of those who do do drugs, 475 will test as users, and 25 will test as non-users and get away with it.

Final score:
True negatives: 9250
False negatives: 25
True positives: 475
False positives: 475

Of those who test positive, 475 are really doing drugs and 475 aren't really doing drugs. That means the chances of a positive-test result being actually guilty are no better than 50-50!

A critic might say, "Well, just use a more accurate test." But if the test results are raised to, let's say, 98% accuracy, the results fare little better.

New final score:
True negatives: 9310
False negatives: 10
True positives: 490
False positives: 190

The above results indicate that almost 39%, or two in five, would be innocent, but presumed guilty. I don't like those numbers!

And what if, because employees fear the drug test, none of them uses drugs? That means that, no matter how accurate the test, 100% of all false positives are innocent!

A critic might say, "Well, just do the test again. 5% of 5% is only .25%, and that's way more accurate."

Wrong. The false positives come about because someone's body chemistry is different, regularly eats poppy seed rolls in sandwiches, or had an over the counter medication in their fatty tissues, or something similar. In other words, the false positive comes by biochemistry, not statistical variance. The repeated test would likely have the same results, would still be wrong, and the innocent would still be punished.

So why, oh why, do politicians still insist on drug tests when they're no better than lie detectors?

One can only assume they came out of the school voucher program.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Pan-Arab Revolt

Tunisia, you've started one hell of a domino effect!

First you, then Egypt, then Yemen, Libya, and now, we hear, Syria is experiencing pro-democracy riots.

Now we're helping to make sure that this pan-Arab revolt for democracy doesn't reverse itself in the form of mass-genocidal repercussions by Ghaddafi, which would almost certainly ensue if were he to beat back the revolution in Libya.

It's a damn good move.

Seriously, for those bitching about Obama going ahead and committing to air strikes in Libya, can you guys truly say that any, and I mean ANY Republican president wouldn't have done EXACTLY the same, damned thing?

Of course any Republican would have done this. It's straight out of the Reagan/Bush Sr. playbook.

But there are legitimate concerns about whether this is the right time to be spending billions on another war in another Arab country. I think those concerns are well-founded, but entirely misplaced.

Instead of being concerned about spending money on a conflict in Libya, why aren't we being concerned about spending less in Iraq and Afghanistan?

If we were offsetting our military spending in Libya by scaling back in our earlier, ridiculous conflicts, we wouldn't be having a debate about spending more money, would we? With the new unrest in Syria, they won't be worrying about attacking Iraq any time soon. In fact, the Sunnis may want revolt in Syria so that they can take Western Iraq and make it part of the new Syrian democratic system. After all, they might as well, since the new Iraqi government is underrepresented by Sunnis. (Remember, the Sunnis were forced to boycott the 2005 elections because Bush fucked up the P.R.) And haven't we wasted enough time and money pretending Bin Laden isn't dead? I was in favor of Afghanistan before, but it's time to get the fuck out of there now, I say.

Besides, we seem to have a new policy of letting the Arabs fight for their own democracies. We already know that the second we're gone from Iraq, the Kurds will try to establish their own government. Why not let them?

Here's what I say: Instead of fighting over whether we should spend more on Libya, let's debate on spending less in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sure makes more sense to me.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Budget-Balancing Compromises

The argument is being made, not unfairly, that since the United States has essentially run out of money, and so certain programs need to be cut. Unsurprisingly, Republicans instantly put PBS and Planned Parenthood on the chopping block. Faced with the consequences of cutting these, the counter-argument is, "Yeah, but we're just plain out of money!"

Well, okay, how about we meet you Republicans half-way on things?

You're gonna cut Planned Parenthood? Okay, but you have to cut funding to all your religiously motivated abstinence-only programs and efforts designed to "counsel" women into not getting their proper birth control. Yeah, I know, you want to tell women what they can do with their own reproductive organs, but as you already pointed out, we don't have the money anymore.

You want to cut PBS? NPR? Okay, fine, but you have to stop funding the F.C.C. The Federal Communications Commission is a dinosaur anyway, daring to censor the media that uses towers and antennas while leaving all other media uncensored. No censorship on cable TV, no censorship of the internet, no censorship of satellite radio. So what's the point of funding the puritans of 1950's media? I know, I know, you want to keep on restraining American free speech, but we just don't have the money, right?

You want to cut environmental programs? Okay, fine, but you have to stop subsidizing Big Oil. I know, you're worried about poor little Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell getting by on slightly smaller mountains of cash, but like you said, we just don't have the fucking money.

You want to cut medical benefits to the poor? Okay, but you're going to have to stop spending money to oppose medical marijuana. While you're at it, de-fund the entire so-called drug war, too.

You want to stop funding clean water? Well, then stop funding Blackwater.

You want to stop funding welfare programs? Well, you'll have to stop giving money to faith-based initiatives.

And hell, since you're so willing to wage war upon the American poor, for Christ's sake stop spending so much money waging wars in other nations! It's bad enough our government attacks its own people, much less people abroad!

Hell, with compromises like these, we might just balance the budget yet!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why I Support Chris Abele

My support for Chris Abele for County Executive is based upon the nature of the attacks directed against him. The Jeff Stone camp is big on playing up some of Abele's past indiscretions, but those indiscretions are really not all that bad. Abele's closet skeletons are little more than a discarded chicken-bone.

Abele pays no taxes because he donates so much money to the poor it offsets the taxes that would be placed upon his trust-fund-baby income. He has apparently once been a reckless youth, however. In addition to throwing his wealth at the poor, he also had the occasional night drinking, and once did so before driving recklessly in his sportscar. He's completely ignored putting a quarter into parking meters because, to him, 25 cents is little worse than 25 bucks for a ticket. But he's always paid the fines. And now, he's apparently once had a lien upon him from the IRS when they weren't too sure he truly didn't owe any taxes to them. This, from today's edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which made that a headline story.

To all this, I say, that's it? That's the best ya got?

We've all had our mistakes. We've all had our indiscretions. I'm frankly surprised that Abele hasn't gotten into more trouble in his youth. Even I certainly would have gotten into more trouble if I'd had that kind of money when I was in my 20's. The fact that he's only had one drunk driving incident and a bevy of immediately-paid parking tickets is impressive. This is a guy who, as County Exec, would never be tempted by dirty money. He's already rolling in it.

And he certainly wouldn't be the first young, rich man who didn't get his shit together until later in life. His past doesn't rule out his present, nor erase the fact that he stands for everything I stand for, so far as I can tell.

Yes, Stone appears to be the candidate with a cleaner record and greater integrity. If only he stood correctly on one, damned issue. Unfortunately, he doesn't, and that means I'd have to see Abele do something seriously lecherous before I'd consider holding my nose and voting for Jeff Stone this election cycle.

Frankly, I'm getting tired of the standard that a politician can't have done any little thing wrong. I was already sick of it back when Clinton's attorney general nominee got ruled out in 1993 because he'd paid his neighbor kid to mow his lawn without paying his FICA, and payroll tax. And the political candidate who's so clean he squeaks makes me worry. It makes me think this guy was the high school hall monitor who spent the last 20 years being a misanthrope before deciding he'd go into politics to finally make friends. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but it's certainly easy to keep your nose clean when you're a hermit with his head in the sand, isn't it?

But buried in the headline that Abele was hit with an IRS lien, is an even more interesting story. Apparently, John Barrett, the brother of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and the clerk of circuit court, spotted Tim Russell (not the piano-playing politico formerly on PBS), digging through Abele's divorce file and other records at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. This guy, Russell, is a former staff member and campaign worker for Scott Walker. He has done volunteer work in Stone's campaign.

So he was digging for dirt on Abele, why? He says, it was out of personal curiosity.


You know, those attacking Abele, nearly all of them one-time supporters of a cocaine-head of a former U.S. President from Texas, have done their best to find anything substantial, and all they've been able to find is that he's a recovering playboy. Well, good for him. He's got my vote.

By the way, did you notice that there's an all-important Wisconsin Supreme Court election coming up in less than two weeks? Yep! April 5. Prosser vs. Kloppenberg. Remember to vote!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pro-Life? Well, Try ME!

Oh, no, anything but another abortion debate!

Well, don't worry. There won't be a debate. Because the debate is over. Because it's a scientific fact that the brain, not conception, defines the being, and that means that the pro-life side, which married itself to conception as the place to draw the line, ended up hanging a millstone about its neck and throwing itself into the sea -- for causing so very many little ones, in this case teenage girls, to stumble.

The debate is over. The pro-life side lost, and I can prove it.

For my complete expose on the proof of the brain defining the line at which a fetus has rights, visit my free online book, which I'm working to release as a podio-book, and a free Kindle release:

In the meantime, Republican legislators are publicly raping their own principle of less government by blocking the rights of those women who have been raped. In South Dakota, women now are required to undergo a 72-hour wait while going to a "pregnancy crisis center" first. This quack-infested "counseling" center is where those seeking abortion get subjected to as much pro-life indoctrination as possible before getting their medical care. It amounts to a government endorsed picket-line, where pro-lifers may harass women going to get an abortion all they want. That's certainly one way to get around being required to be 100 yards away from the entrance! It is yet another government-funded religious initiative, instituted at a time in which we are oh, so concerned about religion in the potential new government of Libya. Oh, the irony! This while the house votes to de-fund the drop in the ocean of government funding which is Planned Parenthood's meager support. That's right, fuck the cancer screenings. Fuck the education programs. Fuck the contraception to keep the abortions from being necessary in the first place. And then, fuck the women a second time after they've been raped. Oh, how stupid religious bias makes otherwise smart people!

Speaking of which, I defy any religious leader to show me ANY proof that God, that gratuitous slayer of post-born children in the Old Testament, of all people, actually disapproves of abortion. Go ahead!

God never said anything about abortion in the Bible, because abortion didn't exist then. It is only the tradition, invented by male clergy, that dictates that abortion is a sin. In short, when you were told that abortion was contrary to God's will, you were LIED to.

Were I God, I'd have a special place in hell for those who dared to put words in my mouth.

I have seen the future. The truth of the brain defining the start of a living being is simply not going to remain the elephant in the room everyone refuses to talk about. Sooner or later, people will wake up to the fact that early-term abortion is very, very, VERY ethical. And that means rape victims have a -- yes, I'll say it -- God-given right to their care, as do teenage girls looking desperately to avoid having their young lives ruined.

Republicans WILL loose massive numbers of elections if they do not remove anti-abortion from their political platform -- IMMEDIATELY.

And now I challenge you, my dear seven readers. Do you feel you can take me on? Are you passionately pro-life? Do you think you can defend your position? I challenge you! Go on! Debate with me! See if you silliness can hold up to science.

I triple-dog dare ya!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Attacking Gaddhafi.

Well, it's official. We're launching surgical strikes against Libyan dictator Mommar Gaddhafi, with the full blessing of a U.N. security council resolution, and with the French on our side (for once). It's interesting how, in this time of an un-winnable military action in Afghanistan, Obama has initiated a very winnable one in Libya. We have a clear-cut definition of victory, namely, the insurgents win. We're spending small amounts of resources in conjunction with an international force to impose a no-fly zone. We're not putting boots on the ground. This isn't costing us a trillion. In short, we're doing this right. And it's in the finest Republican tradition of what the GOP expects from a President. At least, for once, the political right won't be able to criticize our Obama for...

What? They're criticizing him for it anyway? Oh, hell! What's the problem this time?

Well, they're saying how strange it is that the left, which opposed the invasion of Iraq so harshly, is now so much in favor of this action. This amounts to a way of disapproving with Obama without overtly opposing that which they know every Republican president would certainly do in his place.

Interesting. Okay, I, for one, am a slightly left-of-center person who did not oppose the war in Iraq. Hussein was a bad man with a long list of prior offenses. And I don't take silly positions such as it being wrong to oppose the removal of a brutal dictator. But there are some important differences in this case. For one, Bush used an expired UN resolution to invade Iraq, claiming it still held. Even those on the right agreed that was rather shirt-tail, but the UN held its tongue, because it was starting to feel rather toothless at the time. Second, we put our own troops on the ground without a clear plan for winning the peace. We're not screwing up THAT way again, are we? Third, we have an actual coalition of allies instead of us, and Great Britain making up the other 25% our forces didn't.

What really scares republicans is Obama getting his military stripes. If Gaddhafi falls, and I think he will, then Obama becomes unassailable as a liberal peacenik who would misuse our military. That makes him a 2012 shoo-in, and there goes the right-wing Supreme Court: which, of course, is the primary goal of this entire Rupert-Murdoch-fed and Christian-extremist fueled media machine.

It all boils down to Roe v. Wade on whether or not Obama's dealing with Libya is a good idea. Fuckin' A.

Hey, I'll give the Right credit. They're asking what kinds of people these insurgents are. They're wondering what kind of government Libya will have afterward. In short, they're asking all the questions they were too busy kissing Bush's ass to ask back at the onset of the Iraq invasion. And, once again, we must welcome back the Republican pennitant sinner with open arms, while asking where the fuck their common sense has been all this time.

We don't know what kind of government Libya will get. But at least our boys aren't in harm's way when the dust settles. And a democracy isn't even possible unless the dictator first falls, so whether the dictator should fall becomes moot. Libya may end up worse, but it deserves a fair shot.

Strike while the iron is hot.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Crisis In Japan

Few words can capture the tragedy in Japan. The loss of life, the devastation of swaths of countryside... A great nation, once our enemy and now our dear friend, has taken a blow to the jaw from the hammer of Vulcan. It's in times like these that we're reminded why nature is referred to as a 'mother.'

But in the wake of the tragic tsunami, a handfull of idiots are actually surfing it. Not the least of these is Glenn Beck, who, learning nothing from Pat Robertson's hideous gaff over Hurricane Katrina years earlier, has declared this a possible message sent by God that maybe we ought to do things differently. The implication behind this is that the Shinto religion, practiced by the majority of Japanese people, is inadequate for them.

Fuck you too, Glenn.

Okay, there's Mommar Gadhafi, Charlie Sheen, and Glenn Beck. They're all mentally too far gone to sustain their careers. 'Nuff said. Unfortunately, it will be some time after Gadhafi's inevitable fall that Beck will finally topple. His followers will drink his Kool-Aid to its bitter dregs.

But I will say this: TEPCO, the company screwing up the relief efforts of the nuclear disasters in the wake of this devastation, is the new BP. Over and over now, they've said that the fires have been under control, only to have another explosion follow. It's track record was poor even before this point, and now it's even worse. Three Mile Island has been buried in this event's wake. Soon, it will overtake Cernobyl. And it's perfectly clear that the lies told by the corporate leaders of this company are partly responsible -- one does not deal with a crisis by being in denial about it, and trying to pass that myopia on to a public that's dying of radiation poisoning is just plain evil.

This does bring up a crisis about energy that I wish to say something about. It's not quite like the BP oil spill, where the same people who only two years earlier were crying, "Drill, baby, drill!" at McCain rallies turned around and tried blaming Obama for irresponsible deep-water drilling practices. But there are similarities. The BP spill made us look at our energy needs and ask if what we're doing to meet them is really the right course of action. Is it responsible to drill for oil so deep out in the ocean if we can turn to solar, wind, coal, natural gas, and nuclear fuel as alternatives?

Now the debate includes nuclear power.

I've been in favor of nuclear power in the past. I still remain so now. I'm not going to go so far as to say that this tragedy should cause us to abandon nuclear power plants altogether, but I think it's fair to say that we should now avoid putting nuclear plants near coastal areas prone to tsunamis, or near earthquake zones. We should also put in new safeguards in place, learning from what's happened in Japan, and avoid the same conditions.

But let's not go back to excessive or unsafe drilling for oil, or increase our dependency upon the oil of angry Arab despots who are finally beginning to fall from power, just because we've had another nuclear disaster in our lifetime. Let's not fail to lock up fissionable materials behind the heavily-bolted doors of power plants, thus keeping such weapons-grade material away from terrorists, just because one Japanese company has mishandled one disaster. The number of massive oil spills far outstrips the number of nuclear disasters, and the human cost of a nuclear meltdown pales in comparison to the loss of all human freedom if terrorists and extremists continue to get funded with Saudi oil money.

Go solar, go wind, go nuclear. And go, Japan! Let's everybody chip in to help our friends out over there!


Laughing at Andrew Klavan.

Here's a funny video that an old friend of mine posted to Facebook. It features a journalist named Andrew Klavan, who attempts to discredit public sector unions. See how many fallacies you can spot! I found oodles of them!

Let me begin with the most obvious mistake this guy made. He says unions form, getting more money until their employer goes broke, and then has to go out of business, getting an "important lesson in being nice while the now unemployed workers enjoy a hearty laugh at his discomfiture."

Bullshit. If the union drives the business to close, the unemployed workers will be the ones discomfited because they are now unable to make a living, and the now ex-employer will be just fine, secure in the interest he can still live off of. Believe me, the workers wouldn't be laughing at jack shit!

While it's true that unions have occasionally driven companies out of business (Allis Chalmers and the Schlitz Brewery are two examples that come to mind), a union is best served by playing it smart and not doing that. It's a foolish boy who kills his golden goose. Unions are only as good as the union's leadership, and if workers allow their union leaders to get away with the same sort of shenanagins we let other politicians get away with, then the union might well do something stupid enough to induce an employer to close. The price of democracy is constant vigil. The price of being a union member - doubly so.

But if a union does destroy a company, it must be remembered why certain union leaders developed the kind of "take no prisoners" attitude that causes them to sometimes be unreasonable, and still occasionally persists to this day. It happened when unions were just beginning to form, and corporate giants responded with extreme violence, having picketers beaten, jailed, union leaders shot and killed, turning the police on protesters, and a host of other evils. True, this happens seldom today, but many of today's union leaders are still the sons of the men who were beaten with nightsticks only a few short decades ago. The rich employer didn't grant unions their rights by "being nice." The union got its rights through blood, broken teeth, and fractured bones. Let us never forget that.

I love the cherry-picked footage of the protesters in Madison, which is honestly one of the nicest cities you'll ever visit. It's Berkley, California, but with snow. After nearly four weeks straight of non-stop protests in Madison, it's not surprising a few nuts turned up. I'm surprised that more footage wasn't found instead of the 15 seconds worth shown in this video. I'm sure that this fellow would argue vehemently about how showing a picture of the tea-partier holding the sign that said "keep government out of my Medicare" is out of context and unrepresentative of the movement as a whole. Right back atcha regarding the union protesters, big guy!

He says unions are saying that "elected american officials, working to reform public sector unions, are akin to the tyrants in the middle east in the sense of... fara fubu faa."

Fara fubu faa?

Okay, that's not an argument. If you want to call the opposition a big baby, don't yourself talk like one!

Here's the sentence he meant to say: Budget-slashing governors are akin to tyrants in the middle east in the sense that both are angry despots. I've watched Walker for over a decade now, and never was there a politician more despotic than he.

And WHAT "reform" is he talking about? I'm in favor of collective bargaining reform, and reform of the union structure. But this isn't about reform. It's about union destruction. Scott Walker outright said so.

Kings and princes being likened to unions? Don't they wish!

Using that kind of image, this guy clearly seems to think that public workers are overpaid. It's been said before, and it bears repeating: When you compare similar education levels, public workers get paid significantly less than the private sector. Since a teacher or fireman could get paid more outside in the private sector, employee retention becomes a serious problem. When collective bargaining attempts to raise the wages up to what the free market says they ought to be, politicians typically say no, opting to try and short-change that which is in the public interest, especially for teachers, and firefighters. (Not so much police, because they know that an unhappy police officer is a very, very bad thing for everyone.) So, to make up for their myopia, and ensure that public employees actually want to apply for the lower-paying jobs, they are forced to sneak in perquisites or additional retirement benefits. These often work, and people want to get hired for lower pay - but not always. And slash-and-burn politicians often want to take even that away. Then we wonder why we're short on science and math teachers.

I love the part about public sector unions buying elections. He left out the part where the Citizens United ruling (a goddamned 5 to 4 decision, by the way!) allows big corporations to dump millions into elections. The only Davids left to fight these Goliaths, are those few unions which are left.

This guy thinks that's unfair? Unbalanced? Then we'll let him have our union dues if he'll take away Citizens United, how's that?

I'll bet he wouldn't bite.

He says that the bought elections ensure that the unions will take more of your money until you "have no more money left." Seriously, folks, as soon as you hear something like that, you know you're listening to a hyper-extremist hack. Of course they're not going to take ALL your money! Not even Charlie Sheen would exaggerate that much!

This is yet another thing that got posted to Charlie Sykes' blog website. Oh, Charlie! How I miss the old days when you were more rational! What's happened to you, poor soul!

I guess the same thing that's happened to much of the nation: The disease of polarization has infected his brain.

Get well soon, Charlie Sykes. We miss the old you.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gov. Walker and Charlie Sykes on Public Unions

Last week Monday, Governor Walker's office released what it felt were some of the biggest grievances to be laid against the public sector unions and their collective bargaining agreements. The following day, Charlie Sykes read them aloud on his radio program, and his songbirds called in to reaffirm his position. I wanted to go back, listen to his podcast, write out the list he read and then go over it item by item, but fortunately, the overconfident fool saved me the trouble, and listed them on his blog. So, for the benefit of all, let me detail what Walker, and by extension, Charlie, feel are the problems with public sector unions. As I list them, one by one, I'll shoot them down! Observe:

1. No volunteer crossing guards.

A Wausau public employee union filed a grievance to prohibit a local volunteer from serving as a school crossing guard. The 86-year-old lives just two blocks away and serves everyday free of charge.

Principal Steve Miller says, "He said, you know, this gives me a reason to get up in the morning to come and help these kids in the neighborhood."

But for a local union that represents crossing guards, it isn't that simple. Representatives didn't want to go on camera but say if a crossing guard is needed, then one should be officially hired by the city.

Source: WAOW-TV, 1/27/10

Sounds horrible, right? What sort of waste of taxpayer money is it to turn down a free crossing guard? And what sort of union would block saving taxpayer money?

Time out. Just who would this volunteer crossing guard be accountable to? No one, because he's volunteering. Who would be this crossing guard's supervisor? Nobody, he's a volunteer. If he screws up and gets a kid killed, can the family sue the city? No, because he's a fucking volunteer!

In short, the money the union demanded doubled as accountability protection and assurance for the city. AND, it kept the city from being dumb enough to dump a hard-working employee for nothing. That's money well spent!

Just imagine how you'd feel if some washed-up retiree offered to do your job for free, and you got the ax. Would you think that was fair?

Here's another:

$6,000 extra for carrying a pager.

Some state employees, due to the nature of their positions, are required to carry pagers during off-duty hours in order to respond to emergency situations. Due to the collective bargaining agreements, these employees are compensated an extra five hours of pay each week, whether they are paged or not.

For an employee earning an average salary of $50,000 per year, this requirement can cost more than $6,000 in additional compensation.

Source: 2008-09 Agreement between the State of Wisconsin and AFSCME Council 24

Okay, here's the reality of an emergency-responder. If you are required to carry a pager and be called in to work, you need to prioritize that possibility. Can you go out drinking? No. Can you babysit for your sister? No, because you might have to leave on a moment's notice. Can you do anything without planning for the possibility that you might have to drop it and run? NO! That's why that extra $6,000 is EARNED, EARNED, EARNED!

And some Republican hacks want to take this hard-worker and tell them that they shouldn't get paid for their work, and that their vigilance should not be funded. If you were the nurse, doctor, or EMT who was being told this, wouldn't you feel like there was little point to carrying that pager? Wouldn't you want that politician to spend a week doing your job before he claimed he knew what he was doing when he cut your pay?

How about this, isn't cutting this earned benefit no different than a TAX INCREASE?! Indeed! It's the same thing!

So much for fiscal responsibility! (You call these Republicans?)
Here's another:

Arbitrator reinstates porn-watching teacher.

A Cedarburg school teacher was reinstated by an arbitrator after being fired for viewing pornography on a school computer. The school district ultimately succeeded in terminating the teacher only after taking the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court at great cost to the taxpayers.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/23/08

And who was the arbitrator? The newspaper accounts do not say. But it was someone other than the school board and the teachers' union, or else the arbitrator would have had a conflict of interest. Hence, the ruling cost taxpayer money, not because of the union, or the collective bargaining agreement, but because the school board really, really wanted this guy's head, and was willing to pay YOUR tax dollars to get it.

Many conservatives would call this money well spent. I, for one, think it was stupid for this guy to be looking at porn on a school computer, but I also think that condemnation of porn is overblown. The evil of porn lies not in the fact that we see it, or even that we men jerk off to it. The evil lies in the fact that we ostracize it, leaving the women who star in it to be exploited by thugs. Our puritanism results in the suffering of the women we idolize. I call Bullshit!

I'm not afraid to say it: The arbitrator was right! Every boy in that school will find where his daddy's hiding his Playboy and Hustler magazines at some point, and will show them to his buddies on some hot, summer night in a backyard tent, or some other hidden venue. In short, this teacher did not expose kids to anything they wouldn't have found on their own anyway. It's a rite of passage for teenagers. This teacher was an idiot, but did not commit an offense that warranted being fired.

But oh, yeah, Walker is a puritan. That's probably why he doesn't see clearly on this one.

Here's another:

Milwaukee Public Schools teacher Megan Sampson was laid off less than one week after being named Outstanding First Year Teacher by the Wisconsin Council of English Teachers. She lost her job because the collective bargaining agreement requires layoffs to be made based on seniority rather than merit.

Informed that her union had rejected a lower-cost health care plan, that still would have required zero contribution from teachers, Sampson said, “Given the opportunity, of course I would switch to a different plan to save my job, or the jobs of 10 other teachers.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/14/10

Fair's fair: An outstanding teacher should not be let go for less competent senior personnel. That's why collective bargaining needed to be reformed on this point. But one does not throw the baby out with the bathwater!

The whole story is this: 1. Megan Sampson was an English teacher. The fact that she was good made little difference that she was in a relatively low-demand position. Were she math or science, she would never have been let go.

And 2. Megan Sampson was immediately recalled from being let go the instant additional funds were made available for MPS. She refused to come back, and instead started teaching at Tosa East, where she remains to this day. Okay, she rightly felt slighted, but her job was not, technically, lost. The crisis happened over the summer of 2008, and if she'd wanted it, she'd be the one with seniority today.

Here's another:

Union Opposes Cost-Saving Lawn Mowing Program

As a cost cutting measure, Racine County began using county inmates to cut the grass in medians and right-of-ways at no cost to the taxpayers. A county employee union filed a grievance indicating it was the right of government workers to cut the grass, even though it would cost the taxpayers dramatically more.

Source: Racine Journal Times, 5/12/10

Okay, am I the only one uncomfortable with the idea of putting prison inmates in close proximity to gasoline and whirring-bladed fucking machines?! I'D sure pay more to keep inmates clear of those things! Low-risk inmates or not, I gotta say that if we want to save ourselves some money with inmates, it should begin with not jailing marijuana dealers and saving all that wasted cash! In the meantime, I don't mind the idea of chain-gangs cleaning up our parks. Hell, I'm all in favor of it! But unhooking that chain, then putting the inmate on a lawn tractor in the middle of a median divide, where the inmate is only one sterring-wheel-swerve away from car-jacking his way to freedom, well, all I can say is... BULLSHIT!

Again, I have to ask how you'd feel if your private employer colluded with the local prison (which is also likely a private enterprise, these days), to have your job replaced with some criminal who will work for free. Would you feel that's just a bit fucked up?

If you're gonna tell some poor guy he's out of a job, you'd better have a better reason for it than giving a prisoner the means of escape.

(Notice we didn't even need to get to the subject of unions on that one?)

Want another? Here you go:

A Year's Worth Of Pay For 30 Days Work.

Under the Green Bay School District’s collectively bargained Emeritus Program, teachers can retire and receive a year’s worth of salary for working only 30 days over a three year period. This is paid in addition to their already guaranteed pension and health care payouts.

Source: WLUK-TV, 3/3/11

Here's the real-world, free-market reality about teachers. They're NOT overpaid! For teachers, especially in science and math, who have masters degrees, their pay is considerably lower than those in the free market with similar education levels. Why? Because businesses are willing to pay a whole hell of a lot more for a mathematician or a science professional than schools are for such a person to teach kids. With English or History, private-college professorships pay considerably more for the same level of education. So how can a public school afford to make up the difference? To lure people into giving up that difference between free-market and public service, it is necessary to give a little extra perquisite to those who dedicate their lives to educating the poor. Without that extra incentive to reach retirement, one of two things are bound to happen: 1.) Teachers will leave to chase a bigger, fatter paycheck with a private company. Or 2.) People will not leave the private sector to become teachers in the first place -- the pay is simply too low for the kind of shit teachers have to deal with.

Cut the perquisites, the teachers leave, our kids go under-educated. That's the law of supply and demand, which, I can only assume, Republicans are supposed to give a damn about.

There's more:

The $150,000 Bus Driver.

In 2009, the City of Madison’s highest paid employee was a bus driver who earned $159,258, including $109,892 in overtime, guaranteed by a collective bargaining agreement. In total, seven City of Madison bus drivers made more than $100,000 per year in 2009.

"That's the (drivers') contract," said Transit and Parking Commission Chairman Gary Poulson.

Source: Wisconsin State Journal, 2/7/10

Let's do the math: $159,258 minus the $109,892 in overtime means this bus driver gets a little more than $50,000 per year. That's a fair wage for a CDL driver with experience. It's a little less than city bus drivers make. Over the road truckers make anywhere between $45,00o and $65,000 depending on experience and clean driving record. First year truck drivers are almost guaranteed to make $40,000 in their first year. But none of these have to deal with sniveling kids.

Okay, so why the extra cash for this guy? Overtime is time and a half, minimum, we know this. Let's be extra generous and speculate that union benefits negotiated double-pay for overtime. That's a pretty hefty sum for our hypothesis! But even with that, since this guy earned overtime totaling almost twice his actual wage, he had to have been working over 80 hours per week! Jesus Christ! As a school bus driver, that kind of non-stop working can mean only one thing:

Nobody is getting hired to drive school buses in Madison.

And why might that be? Could it be that nobody wants to drive buses in Madison for $50K per year? Indeed it does! The free market has spoken, and drivers with a CDL, who could earn $75K on the open road, and not have to put up with school brats and their shit, will do so. Nobody wants to drive a school bus when they could be making so much more. UNLESS, there is a union contract negotiating better overtime pay.

Again, politicians try to mess with the laws of supply and demand. You'd think these weren't Republicans!

This just goes on and on. Here's another one:

$150,000 Correctional Officers.

Correctional Officer collective bargaining agreements allow officers a practice known as “sick leave stacking.” Officers can call in sick for a shift, receiving 8 hours of sick pay, and then are allowed to work the very next shift, earning time-and-a-half for overtime. This results in the officer receiving 2.5 times his or her rate of pay, while still only working 8 hours.

In part because of these practices, 13 correctional officers made more than $100,000 in 2009, despite earning base wages of less than $60,000 per year. The officers received an average of $66,000 in overtime pay for an average annual salary of more than $123,000 with the highest paid receiving $151,181.

Source: Department of Corrections

I shouldn't have to keep harping on the legalization of cannabis requiring not only far fewer inmates, but far fewer guards to watch over them, but there you are.

Only thirteen officers? I'm surprised it's that low.

Pop quiz: What would it take to lure you into a career as a prison guard, potentially getting attacked by some of the most violent motherfuckers at any given moment? $60,000 per year? Nah, me neither. Talk $80,000 and maybe I'm interested. And that's me, who happens to be wallowing in student-level poverty, seriously contemplating selling blood for beer money at age 40. What must the free market demand?

Obviously, more than the public sector is willing to pay. Which makes for a problem if we want guards to staff our criminal training camp. Oops! I meant to say, prison.

But there's more besides. This benefit is in place in case a prison guard really does get sick, and then has to come in anyway- which does sometimes happen. This poor guard, sniffling, aching, surviving on TheraFlu while guarding people who want him dead, has EARNED that money! Now some numbskulled politician, sitting behind his safe, comfy desk, is going to tell him otherwise? Let me say what that prison guard would say: FUCK YOU!

Here's more:

Paid Time-Off For Union Activities:

In Milwaukee County alone, because the union collectively bargained for paid time off, fourteen employees receive salary and benefits for doing union business. Of the fourteen, three are on full-time release for union business. Milwaukee County spent over $170,000 in salary alone for these employees to only participate in union activities such as collective bargaining.

I find it interesting that this is the first item which doesn't have a citation. I'm also surprised it's only three people full-time. This would be teachers, police, firefighters, bus drivers, even zookeepers. Only three. Wow.

Here's how it works: The union says, "Look, we can negotiate for even more county workers to be able to pay three people full-time, which would be something on the order of a couple hundred workers, or you can pay our three people directly for us, and save money." Those who wanted to save the taxpayers money said, "Okay, it's a deal." Thus, this gentleman's agreement, which looks like a scam at the onset, actually saves the taxpayers hundreds of thousands. Now, if some fool of a slash-and-burn politician comes along and calls this an outrage, it threatens to upset the whole applecart, and cause 1.) a fight and 2.) a sharp increase in the number of union jobs, because you can bet your ass, these three aren't losing their jobs anytime soon!

Okay, again, let's do the math: $170,000 per year divided by fourteen is only a little over $12,000 each. Not chump change, but not overwhelming, either. It's a little more than what you'd get if you worked part-time at McDonald's on weekends. But three are full-time. The other eleven are part-time, and so get a lot less than that. Let's say each of those eleven get only 4,000. That leaves the three full-timers with about $40K per year. About the equivalent of an accounts receivable clerk. Not small, but certainly not huge.

All in all, it's rather a bargain.

There's a few more, but I'm skipping to the best one:

Viagra For Teachers.

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) tried to use a policy established by collective bargaining to obtain health insurance coverage that specifically paid for Viagra. Cost to taxpayers is $786,000 a year.

Reference: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/milwaukee-schools-ban-viagra-teachers-union-sues-discrimination/story?id=11378595

Okay, time to do the math again.
According to Wikipedia, MPS has 6,100 full and part-time teachers in its employ. How many of them are male? Hard to say for certain. More male gym teachers and more female home economics teachers, I'll wager. But we'll split the difference evenly and call it 50/50. That makes for roughly 3,050 male teachers. If we divide $786K by 3,050, we get a cost per male teacher of about $258 per year.

Fuck, that's IT?

Okay, $786,000 sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But when we're talking about an operating medical benefits budget of something like $87 million (last I saw, that is, estimates vary), $786K just isn't very much by comparison. The lawsuit contended discrimination because the medical benefits still covered female sexual therapies, such as estrogen treatments, progesterone, or vaginal creams. It's a fair argument. However, the lawsuit, in light of recent events, has been dropped, so all this is moot, now.

Just an aside, would you want a sexually frustrated teacher instructing your kid? Me, neither!

Out of all Walker's points, endorsed, paraded, and championed by Charlie Sykes, not one of them really pans out or holds water. I'm surprised they're using these so flippantly -- as though there aren't citizens like me out there checking up on what they're saying.

These detriments overlook the primary benefit of a public employee union. Namely, that it keeps slash-and-burn politicians from making stupid mistakes that harm the public trust. Put it another way, you could save money by not changing your car's oil. That works, short term. But eventually, your engine breaks down.

Public unions make sure the oil gets changed.

Education is the key to our future. Sacrificing the children of tomorrow to pay the deficit of today ensures deficit spending in the next generation, and the generation after that. It's a stupid way to balance a budget!

I've argued all this, I'm not even paid by the union. Maybe I should be!


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Well, The Budget Battle's Over

There's a movie called "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," that I think was made during one of Hollywood's better moments. In it, Roger Rabbit ends up getting accidentally handcuffed to detective, Eddie Valiant, and ends up having to go through all sorts of disasters because neither of them can free himself. (There are no keys for the cuffs, you see.) Finally, Eddie finds a secluded spot where he can hacksaw the cuffs off from them both, but the surface that he's cutting on keeps wobbling. Roger removes his hand from the cuffs and steadies the workbench.
"Does this help?" he asks.
"Thanks!" Eddies says at first. Then, realizing what just happened, he glares at Roger, who guiltily places his hand back inside the cuff again. "Do you mean to tell me that you could have removed your hand from there at any time?!" he bellows.
"Not at any time," Roger jabs. "Only when it was funny!"

That's analogous to what's just happened in Madison, where Senate Republicans have just broken the deadlock by stripping the budget repair bill of anything having to do with a budget, and voting only on stripping the collective bargaining. Because this new version of the bill has no budgetary measures, it didn't need a quorum to vote, and so passed 18-1. (Yes, one Republican voted against it.) The Democrats who fled will return to Madison tomorrow.
"You mean you could have freed yourself at ANY time?!"

Not at any time. Only when it was... Funny? Sad? Pathetic?

No, none of those. What happened was that Walker offered a compromise on collective bargaining, only to have Democrats refuse it -- not because the Dems were being stubborn, but because they trusted Walker about as far as they could throw... No, wait, that's the wrong phrase. They could probably throw his skinny ass some considerable distance. Bottom line is that they wanted guarantees that Walker wouldn't double-cross. Walker couldn't give that, and so the deal, a good compromise, was rejected.

Remember that blog post, and the one before that, and the one before that, where I condemned how polarized partisanship clouds judgment? Hmmmm?

Anyway, that, and realizing that a few Republican Senators were getting disgusted enough to potentially break ranks, he and his colleagues finally started thinking outside the box.

Divide and conquer.

The solution was so simple, and so obvious, that I'm left wondering why nobody in the entire fucking State thought of doing this before. I didn't, but then, I'm not a legislator. Were I one, or a lawyer, or even just a Republican, I daresay this would have crossed my mind immediately. Why wasn't it done on day one? Why in hell was all this trench warfare even necessary? With the whole nation's cameras on them every day, nobody sent a clever e-mail or picketed with a sign suggesting this? Seriously?

Then I remembered, partisan polarized thinking makes one blind to alternatives. It prevents not only people seeing the other side, it obstructs clear thinking in every way - so much so that one can't even see solutions for one's own side.

Thus, sandwiched in with the good items that will come about, such as an end to the residency rule and merit-based pay for teachers rather than seniority, will come a slash-to-the-bone gutting of inner city school funds and hundred-thousand dollar giveaways to religious schools who will indoctrinate many of their kids against evolution.

So much for quality education.

Let's prepare for rebuilding mode, everybody. At least when we rebuild, the residency rule and merit-based pay will be in place for Milwaukee Teachers, so that's a plus. One benefit of a fire is that you get to rebuild the building with a better design.

That doesn't excuse arson!

So Walker, having just removed his head from his ass, will get in front of the TV cameras and declare victory, scarcely realizing that his head still reeks of his own colon. He'll say something grand and inspiring, but all I will hear is "Sorry guys, but I was too stupid to realize that I had this trump card here up my sleeve THE WHOLE FUCKING TIME!"

May I suggest you wipe the shit from your nose, Scotty? We'll see you in less than a year's time for your recall.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Analysis of Walker's Budget Plan

Well, I've had some time to go over what Walker is planning with his current budget proposals, and I've gotta say, on the whole, I don't like it.

Don't get me wrong. There's some good things in there. There's an end to the residency rule. Great! There's more open enrollment for charter schools and virtual charter schools. Good. Any four-year university can sponsor a charter school. That may spark some new schools on the back of the booming adult-extension-college industry. Outstanding!. There's increased aid to private schools and expansion of school choice into Milwaukee suburbs. Fine by me, though I fear Walker may try to use this to funnel public money to religious schools. How absolutely evil it would be of him to give away money for religious indoctrination after a budget crisis like this! And that's before we even get to the violation of the separation between church and state. No tax-exempt churches should benefit from tax-funded vouchers!

Seems like aid to schools comprises something like 35% of the state expenditures. This from the financial position papers which are available online. All other things the state spends money on are small-potatoes, and cutting them won't make much of a dent. So the bottom line is that schools are just going to have to get cut somewhere, I understand that. But what I fear is that, with an expanded school choice system, whole swaths of inner-city areas will go from having bad schools to no schools at all, both because the budget has been cut beyond the breaking point, and because no teacher would want to work in a high-need school with cut pay, especially in the areas of math and science, where teachers could leave teaching and make up to double or triple the money in the private sector. Yes, that's right. Because teachers really do earn way less than they would in the private sector. We'll have a brain-drain in those schools that need it most.

You see, it's simple supply/demand economics: How do you get someone to be a garbage-man? You pay him a premium! How do you get a worker to clean sewage at MMSD? You pay him a premium! How do you get a public school teacher into the inner city?

You pay a premium!

On top of this is a cut to the UW system, and cutting loose the main UW campus in Madison. Also, beginning plans to cut UWM form the system as well. There went local school tuition rates!

Actually, I have mixed feelings about that. Seems to me that if the main UW schools split from the state and became entirely for-profit schools, that they's have fewer politicians trying to dictate terms to people with five times their education. I'm going to have to explore this idea further.

Finally, there's a $71.6 million dollar cut in the state's technical college system. Oh, boy, is that ever dumb!

The bulk of new, marketable job skills that come into the workforce come from those technical schools. Also, tech schools with adult high schools, like MATC, are the only thing that can bridge the gap between the inevitable dropoff in education from Walker's budget cuts. Hey, MATC has its problems, I'll be the first to admit. And it's bureaucracy can be a headache, but it really is the best bang for the buck in terms of education and a thriving workforce. Slash spending here, and we'll have fewer workers trained for tomorrow.

Now, walker has been granting tax breaks to corporations to lure companies to Wisconsin. No problems there. But with these cuts in education, the companies that end up coming to this state will have nobody to hire. They'll end up importing workers from other states, resulting in very little overall economic gain.

This is stupid.

Okay, here's how I'd try to fix it. I understand some cuts are necessary, but first, let's make sure that inner city high-need areas are not slashed and burned needlessly.

1. Pay cuts for all legislators in Madison, especially the governor's salary. You want cuts? Great. Let's start with you guys!

2. Don't exclude the contributions from police and firefighters. Everybody's bellyaching about how the teachers have been reaping the benefits of not having to contribute to their health or retirement benefits. Fine. But as Mayor Barrett pointed out, more than 60% of the benefits expenses go to police and firefighters. Excluding them from having to contribute shoots the whole system in the foot. We all have to contribute in the private sector. It's wrong for the guy who writes you the ticket for parking while your at work to not have to pay while you do. Plus, that makes that much more in savings which won't have to come out of the hides of our education.

3. Bigger public schools. Ever notice that the biggest MPS schools, like Nicolae, are also the most successful? Oh, Nicolae has it's problems, but generally, for public schools, bigger is better. Small public school facilities out in the middle of high-crime areas are nothing more than tiny bunkers and can offer little support to students. These tiny public schools need to be closed, and bigger inner city schools built and opened. It's a long-term solution, but it needs to be done.

4. Revamp the incentives Walker is trying to use to lure businesses to Wisconsin with. Front and center: giving a two-year waiver on state taxes for those businesses who relocate to Wisconsin. Fine, except there's a provision in that deal that, if a business moves $200,000 worth of employment to Wisconsin, that business qualifies for the waiver as well.

Hang on: $200K? That's IT? That's only ten fast-food jobs, or seven unskilled labor jobs! WTF?

For a pittance, a mega-corporation can get no taxes for two years. Bullshit! Okay, 200,000 actual jobs instead of $200,000 dollars in jobs, now you're talking. I'd give a two year tax break for that. But only a few jobs? Walker's insane if he thinks that will lure any businesses here in any other way except on paper.

5. NO cuts to the tech schools! If we want education to work, then the tech schools, that white knight acting as the only thing standing between the eager poor looking to gain marketable skills and eternal poverty, need to be boosted, not cut! Instead of slashing $71 million, we might consider giving them a $71 million increase to help develop the workers that businesses coming to Wisconsin will need to hire. Plus, highly skilled workers being in our state is something which lures businesses to the state, thus increasing revenue long-term.

In short, I find Walker's budget to be reckless. We need a scalpel, and he's using a chainsaw. He wants to balance the budget by throwing tomorrow's generation away. I find that silly.

I've given the governor a few nicknames. Little Boy Blue, for starters. "Scorched Earth Scotty," comes to mind. Anybody have any others? Because "Slash And Burn Scooter," needs to be reigned in.

There's more, but that's all for now.