Tuesday, February 28, 2006

EU gets close on the Danish cartoons

The EU has veered toward the right position on the Danish cartoons but, in the end, can not completely shed its essential eurowimpiness. It acknowledges and expresses regret that Muslims found the cartoons offensive, but declares that freedom of expression "is a fundamental right and an essential element of a democratic discourse."

That's good, but then the statement says that freedom of expression should be "exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions." I agree. But to the extent it implies that governments have any obligation or competency to enforce that requirement, the statement is is wrong. More fundamentally, to qualify the endorsement of free speech in light of its complete repudiation by people who are burning buildings and killing people over cartoons is to conflate even-handedness with idiocy.

But the trend of British pusilanimity continues. Her Majesty's government wanted the EU to show regret over the cartoons themselves.

Racketeering and abortion protest

I just got back from MCing the annual Shrove Tuesday Potluck and Talent Show at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Milwaukee. Church events are tough because you can't work blue.

So I finally caught up with the Supreme Court's opinion in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women . The case ended a 19 year attempt to apply a federal racketeering statute to certain abortion protesters. In this case, the issue was fairly narrow. The Court decided that the Hobbs Act does not apply to physical violence unrelated to extortion or robbery. The Court's decision was unanimous and that's not surprising to me given that the legal question seems pretty "easy." I don't think today's decision tells us much of anything about the direction of the Roberts Court.

Rush to judgment

Vote on the amendment banning the recognition of same sex marriage is set for later today. I've spent a good portion of the last day or so preparing to teach this tomorrow. I'm not interested in getting into the merits of the amendment, but I find the dismissal of those who oppose gay marriage as "bigots" expressing their "hate" to be intellectually vapid and enormously short sighted.

I want to put aside for one moment whether it is fair to characterize people who follow religious tenets concerning homosexuality that have been just about unanimously held by the Abrahamic faiths until maybe the last 20 years or so as "bigots." The church I attend has a number of gay parishioners. I am happy to have them as friends and, for reasons that are too complicated to get into here, I do not feel called to judge them (as I hope they do not feel called to judge me.) But there are plenty of issues raised by same-sex marriage that have nothing to do with whether one believes that gay and lesbian relationships are "sinful" or "wrong."

There are issues raised by the marriage of same-sex couples surrounding the presumption of parenthood and the assumptions of spousal dependency and the string of legal rules that flow from it. There are issues regarding the definition of adultery and whether sexual exclusivity in marriage should continue to be regarded as normative and, if so, why? It is an open question whether the reasons for legal recognition of marriage (which, whether or not all heterosexual couples do or even can reproduce, are historically about confining potentially procreative sexual relationships to marriage) even apply to same-sex relationships. If, as some argue, marriage is really about freely chosen relationships of mutual affection and support, there are issues regarding what other types of relationships should be accorded marriage - or marriage like - recognition.

To say that marriage is simply an extension of "benefits" that should not be denied people who choose a conjugal relationship with a member of their own sex is simplistic. If that was the issue, there are other ways to address legal unfairness to same-sex couples.

I'm not sure how I come down on all of this, but to say that people who want to discuss these questions are "bigots" is just another way of telling people who may disagree with you to shut up. To say that the complexity of the issue suggests that it be addressed by legislation and not, as in Massachusetts and Vermont, by the courts is not "hateful" but wise. To hesitate, just a bit, before redefining an extremely old and uniquely universal institution that has been otherwise been weakened over the past fifty years at an enormous social cost strikes me, not as prejudiced, but as prudent.

So, whatever the vote, let's skip the name-calling.

Politically correct jurisprudence?

Greg Sisk, a law professor at St, Thomas, blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy discussed the results of a survey that he conducted with two colleagues in which they attempted to determine how likely different religious groups fared in religious liberty cases in the courts over the past two decades. Here is his conclusion:

First, those religious groupings that both today and historically have been regarded as outsiders or minorities, such as Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, and various others (including Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Scientists), did not succeed or fail in making religious liberty claims at a rate (controlling for all other variables) that was significantly different than for other religious classifications. In sum, with the potential exception of Muslim claimants in certain claim subcategories, religious minorities did not experience disproportionately unfavorable treatments in the federal courts of the 1980s and 1990s.

Second, two categories of religious affiliation by claimants emerged as consistently and significantly associated with a negative outcome:Catholic (at the 99% probability level) and Baptist (at the 95% probability level).

In other words, Catholics and Baptists asserting religious liberty claims were more likely to lose that groups traditionally regarded as "outsiders." While some will claim that this reflects an anti-Christian bias (and it might), I'd suggest that it also may be an artifact of what JusticeScalia calls the "law profession" culture. Over the past forty years or so, legal training has emphasized taking special care to protect groups that are said to have been "historically disfavored" (think all of the stereotypical "politically correct" minorities) who are said to be discrete and insular minorities unable to protect themselves in the political process.

This tendency was, perhaps, an understandable response to historic discrimination, but probably was taken - and continues to be taken - too far. In emphasizing the need to include those who were outsiders, we may just have created a new class of disfavored groups. In emphasizing solicitude for minorities, we may be damaging the way in which the majority culture states and strengthens its values.

I wouldn't send a check

Peter at Texas Hold 'Em goes all in:

No one ever said Iraq was tied to 9/11 and I have a standing offer of $1,000 cash to anyone who can produce a quote from President Bush or any official who ever said that.

Jay Bullock calls. I'm not going to award the hand because it depends on what the meaning of the word "tied" is. There is a difference between what Peter is saying, i.e., Bush never said that Iraq was behind 9/11 and much of what Jay cites which amounts to the claim that the war in Iraq was part of the war on Terror which began - or at least was brought home - on 9/11.

Bush never did make the claim that Iraq was behind 9/11. Although there is evidence of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, that wasn't the argument that is behind the cites that Iraq was a stage in the same war or that we invaded Iraq because we were attacked.

Shortly after 9-11, I was having a conversation with local attorney and sometimes candidate for public office, Matt Flynn. I think Matt was making the mistake of trying to sue my client and I was dishing out the required beatdown (or it could have been about something else entirely; I really don't recall). In any event, Matt said something pithy and profound - especially for a Democrat. Osama bin Laden, he said, is a metaphor.

He was right. There are 100 guys ready to emerge from the desert for every Osama. Simply tracking down and killing (or, if we are to adopt the Spielbergian mentality of Munich, administering due process to)the folks who carried out the attack doesn't end the war.

Liberals recognizing this have generally called for addressing "root causes" and Bush agreed. For the left, addressing root causes generally means giving people money or, in this case, maybe throwing Israel under the bus.

For Bush, it was doing two things. First, he wanted to change the rules of the game. He wanted to send the message that their is no longer any such thing as neutrality in the war between Islamofascist terror and modernity. Iraq may not have been involved in 9-11 or even had strong ties with al Qaeda, but they were recognized, not just by Bush, but by the Clinton administration as one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism.

Opponents of the war argue that Iraq was not the only such sponsor as if moving against one requires moving against them all. What Iraq was is a terror sponsoring state about which there were many other reasons to move, including its reign of terror against its own people and what everyone agreed was its noncompliance with the UN inspection regime. Invading Iraq, the argument went, would remove a sponsor of terror and send a shot across the Saudi's bow. Knock down our buildings and we take down two countries. Want to try again?

The other goal - which made it part of the same war - was to create a democratic regime in the middle east that might serve as a beacon for reform.

Did it work? I don't know and don't think any of us will for quite some time.

"People, boy, they wanted their martinis."

Hundreds of yuppies apparently engaged in a drunken riot at Milwaukee's Art Museum during something called Martinifest sponsored by Clear Channel and a bunch of area restaurants. Young sophisticates apparently left food, drink and vomit on the art work. Four young men climbed the statute of a goddess called "Standing Woman" with "exaggerated features" and, as we used to say. proceeded to second base. "We were hoping for a little sophistication, maybe," said Casey Rataczak, 27, a Wicked Hop bartender. "People were shoving their martini glasses in my face and not wanting to talk about the product . . . they were just worked up about getting their booze."

This wasn't a drunken mess; it was performance art. The attendees demonstrated what they thought of this notion that martinis are a gourmet item to be sipped while discussing the semiotics of a post-modern dadaist neo-deconstructivist piece of who know what it us anyway. "Get us drunk, man !" "Hey, I'd sure like a shot at "exaggerated features" like that." We haven't seen anything as thrillingly transgressive as this since "Piss Christ." Clear Channel says it going to put on Martinifest 2007. I'd like to see funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Phony compromise

There was a dust-up in the cheddarsphere over whether Doyle or the GOP blinked on the choice compromise. I and others thought Doyle had caved, while some of our friends on the left thought otherwise.

Doesn't the fact that no Dems in the Senate are going to support this tell the tale? If Doyle wanted this, he could get some votes from his own party.

So if the "compromise" goes down, the pressure should be right back on the Governor to lift the cap. All he's done, essentially, is promise not to veto legislation that embodies the compromise. He's obviously not going to do a thing to make it happen.

Money, money, money

For years I prided myself on never having watched a reality show, but my wife finally cajoled me into watching The Apprentice. I'm not proud. I'm hooked. But I'm not sure why. Is it the self-mocking gravity of the Donald? The schadenfreude of seeing successful people turn themselves into sycophants and get castigated for not "stepping up" on a project that typically has all the complexity of a high school fundraiser? If I thought anyone took the show seriously and if there still was a worldwide communist conspiracy, I'd bet that the show was secretly funded by the reds to make capitalism look bad.

What did I enjoy today? Trump saying he has real hair because his toupe retained helmet shape while his jet idled behind him. The looks of adoration from the winning Synergy team at their reward lunch with Trump. "You can get inside my head for an hour." Must be pretty empty to fit them all in there. This goofy lawyer named Brent jumping around. He was picked last to fill out the teams; had the idea that turned out to be the key to his side winning only to have it attributed to another, and then was exciled to a blimp and made to circle overhead while his teammates tried to sell memberships to Sam's Club. This guy is the Rodney Dangerfield of the group. I hope he lasts awhile. Tarek from Mensa who apparently thinks that the most important thing people need to know about you is your IQ. Look, if you've got to tell them, its probably not as impressive as you think. As always, the ominously lit board room, the slap on the table and the finger in the face. Summer, you're fired.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Helping evolution along

A Dutch politician, unafraid of Derbyshire's Panzers, has called for a debate on mandatory abortion and contraception for Amsterdam's poor. She wants to focus on Antilleans, drug addicts and people with mental disabilities.

Separation of state and atheism

The Madison based Freedom From Religion Foundation its ongoing effort to create a world in which its members will be free from ever having their presuppositions challenged has complained to UW Chancellor John Wiley about student funds going to the Madison campus' Roman Catholic Foundation. It calls on Chancellor Wiley to honor the "wall of separation" between church and state.

He better not. The Supreme Court has held that universities who disadvantage student religious, as opposed to secular, organizations are acting unconstitutionally, even if this means they must fund pervasively religious communication. Since the religious communication in question is that of an independent student group, and not the state, there is no Establishment Clause problem with allocating student fees to the group.

Michael Joyce, R.I.P.

A conservative blogger from Wisconsin really shouldn't leave the untimely death of Michael Joyce, former head of the Bradley Foundation go unremarked. You can find more eloquent and thorough tributes here and here. But as someone who has lived in this area for a long time, I am hard pressed to think of anyone who has had a more profound and positive impact on the situation on the ground. We puff up our politicians but their efforts all pale in comparison. Requiescat in pace.

I rock!

Is Bode Miller about to become the male Paris Hilton?

Its the Panzers again

NRO contributor John Derbyshire complains on the Corner of "Left" and "Right" creationsts. By this, he does not mean people who believe in the Genesis creations stories (although some of the people he calls right creationists do), but people who believe that human beings have not continued to evolve. The left creationists are apparently particularly sensitive to the idea that different racial and ethnic groups might have evolved in ways that leave them with different capabilities and right creationists are most concerned with - well, he really doesn't explain that very well. But he has no tolerance for either:

Both the LC and RC positions are threatened by (a) a growing pile of evidence that human evolution has been chugging merrily along this past 50,000 years, and (b) that we shall soon be able to lend a hand, changing innate human nature in ways both desirable and not. These are the things that need our attention, and that we ought to be talking about. LCs and RCs, however, prefer to busy themselves with organizing cavalry charges against the oncoming Panzers.

Using Panzers as a metaphor for those who think we think we "ought to lend a hand" is rather appropriate. The Nazis were all for giving evolution a shove in the back. When we start talking about building the New Man, we might remember that we've seen those tanks before and they made a bloody mess.

We might also remember that we've got our own history in the US of trying to create a master race. We were less insistent about it than Hitler, but still managed to break quite a few eggs without getting anywhere near an omelette. Harry Brunius recounts the story in his new book, Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America's Quest for Racial Purity Sally Satel reviewed it in in yesterday's New York Times.

I appreciate that Derbyshire isn't suggesting that we fire up the eugenics movement. (At least I hope not.) Still, my guess is that he regards those who pretty much reject out of hand the notion that we embark on a program of human improvement as obscurantist and anti-scientific. But if science is, in part, the process of basing judgments on empirical observations, then those who argue that we are far more likely to do harm than good when we start to "help evolution along" seem to have the facts on their side.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

England, oh my England

Continuing the theme, this is just stone scary. A court in the UK has argued that doctors can allow profoundly ill little Charlotte Wyatt (pictured here) to die. The court is not deferring to the wishes of her parents. That would be bad enough, but they want her to live. It's the hospital that is fighting for the right to let her die on the grounds that her life is overly burdensome and should not be prolonged.

Here is the mercy of government health care. Here is the compassion of the brave new world.

Like most American Episcopalians, I am a bit of an anglophile. Its rather hard today.

H/T: Michelle Malkin.

Big time

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself...
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England"

Richard II. Act ii. Sc. 1.

What has happened to thee?

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been suspended for four weeks for being insensitive to a reporter. After the reporter asked something that Livingstone must not have liked, the exchange went as follows:

Livingston: "What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?"

Reporter: "No, I'm Jewish. I wasn't a German war criminal."

Livingstone: "Actually, you are just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it 'cause you're paid to, aren't you?"

Well, I can see suspending him for being incoherent and, even worse, not witty, but just what is intolerably offensive about this? Has he offended Germans by suggesting they are war criminals? Does the fact that the reporter announced he was Jewish mean that he couldn't also be a mercenary? Or is the fact that he was Jewish mean no linking him with anti-semites? Was Livingstone just too rough with a reporter?

That's the problem with "speech codes" they are subject to the same law of expansion that governs Michael Moore's pants size.

How long would Winston Churchhill last in today's Europe. Here are two of my favorites. Did he really say them? I'd like to think so.

Bessie Braddock (meeting Churchill while he was in his cups): “Sir, you are drunk.”
Churchill: “And, Madam, you are ugly. But in the morning, I shall be sober.”

Nancy Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”
Churchill: “Madam. if I were your husband I would take it.”

Will anyone notice?

Mrs. George Costanza (Laurie David, wife of Larry the apparent misanthrope who modeled George on himself)says she's sad that the Winter Olympics are marked for extinction. Global warming, you know. Given their ratings, I'm not sure anyone else will miss them.

No mas

Tommy Thompson is thinking of running for Governor? Please. Don't.

Cheddar or Challah?

So we've become a dirty word in Israel? I think programs like W-2 (Wisconsin's welfare to work program) could use some tweaking, but the problem here seems to be that work isn't providing enough more to prefer it to not working. But that, unfortunately, is not the question that you get to ask when you are looking for someone else to support you.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Reynolds needs to rethink

Jessica McBride has heard that Tom Reynolds problem with accreditation and standardized testing for choice schools is because the schools won't be able to teach about creation. I suspect he means that high school science curriculums might have to teach evolution.

This seems like a phony issue. Catholic and Lutheran schools make up about half of choice enrollees and, I suspect, much more than that in the higher grades. My guess is that they don't teach either of the Genesis stories regarding creation as literally true and that they don't teach "young earth" creationism because the Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations don't believe these things. (I can't speak to the WELS schools, but Wisconsin Lutheran High School proudly releases its above average test scores so I guess they are managing to give the kids what they need to know to score well.) They might well teach "Intelligent Design" but, contrary to what the secularists maintain, ID is not the same and is not inconsistent with teaching scientifically verified aspects of evolution.

But q choice school wants to teach seven day creationism as an alternative theory to evolution it'll be able to do so. If the recent decision in Dover, PA is any indication public schools can't do that. They can't even suggest that students check it out.

I sent my son to a Catholic grade school in Mequon (then Ss. Cecilia & James; now Lumen Christi). It was completely orthodox and completely accredited.

Jessica is right. If Reynolds votes against this, he's going to deny poor kids in the city of Milwaukee an opportunity for an orthodox Christian education for their kids at schools like Messmer, St. Joan Antida, and Wisconsin Lutheran. He will have booted kids out of the WELS grade school, St. Marcus, in the heart of Milwaukee's central city. That would be shameful. That would be really hard to answer for.


Negative responses to my Journal-Sentinel column fall into two categories. One set basically says don't blame the teachers; the kids are hopeless. (I rephrase slightly.) Very hopeful, that. The others are fairly ad hominem, dumping on my son for making a joke about what everyone in the area believes or fears and that he experienced or on UWM or Marquette Law School (of which I am a part time employee) because "they aren't that good either."

Fighting words all of them, but tonight I don't care because Detroit beat Butler. The Milwaukee Panthers are the sole champs in the Horizon League and will host the conference tournament at the Cell next weekend.

Thought Experiment No. 5 - More from the Meathead

Yesterday's post on Rob Reiner attracted a fair amount of traffic from Hugh Hewitt's blog and its nice to see those folks. Reiner has now stepped down from the public commission he heads until the ballot initiative that he's been shilling for with tax money has been voted upon. The initiative, Proposition 82, creates a constitutional right to pre-school education. Its expected to cost 2.4 billion and will be funded by a tax of 1.7% on individual incomes over $400,000 and family incomes over $ 800,000. That's big money even in California. It will have no cost for 99.4% of the state's taxpayers.

Who could object to that? Why don't the eight of us vote to lift the wallets of those two over there? They look like they've got some cash and we've got numbers. No reason not to. It costs us nothing.

In fact, it seems like the Meathead is settling for small beer. Why not jack that tax up to 10%. Or 20? $ 800,000 probably probably gets you some higher end lawyers and pediatricians to the stars, but there's bigger game than that in west LA. Let's take 60% over, say, five million. That'll net us nine million or more on Brangelina's next movie alone.

Better yet, why limit our cut to income? Let's hoover up those trust funds! Who needs a Malibu beach house when class sizes are increasing? Why should Rob fly around in a Lear when No Child Left Behind remains underfunded? At this year's Academy Awards, when the beautiful people ask what they can "give back," I've got an answer.

All of it.

Its about choice, stupid !

Jessica McBride is sizing up the vote on the Choice compromise. She hears that the GOP is largely swallowing the SAGE funding while the Dems are not mollified by it - they aren't going to vote to lift the cap.

What I find interesting is that we keep hearing that Choice proponents want to "destroy" public education and that they don't "really care" about kids. The other day I listened the former UWM Prof. Walter Farrell basically say, on Eric Von's show, that choice proponents are mostly bought and paid for. (Where's my check?)

But when its time to lock and load, we are largely willing to swallow 25 million dollars in funding for a pet program of the educational establishment in which we mostly do not believe in order to get cap relief. The Dems who mostly think SAGE is a big old ice cream sundae remain focused on opposition to Choice like Russ Feingold on a TV camera. That the money "diverted" from shared revenue is going to be matched by increases in other funding for public education doesn't matter because the enemy lives on.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Shark and Shepherd on dead tree

My Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel column is up.

South Dakota to Roe: Drop dead !

South Dakota has passed a law prohibiting almost all abortions, permitting them only when necessary to save the life of the mother.

Does this presage a challenge to Roe? If Alito and Roberts feel that Roe should be reconsidered, there are four votes for cert and, under the "rule of four," that's all it takes. There are still presumably five votes for Roe, but if, somewhere in there, Stevens is replaced, Roe might be in trouble.

Do I think this will happen?

No. Whatever their views, I don't see the four conservatives voting to take a case to re-examine Roe when they don't have the fifth vote. Stevens will have to be off the Court before the cert petition is filed and my guess is that he is going to do everything he can to hang on for the next two years.

Even if Stevens is replaced, I am not so sure that we'll be able to replace him with a solid conservative, particularly if the Dems gain seats in the Senate. If Bush gets another appointment, the confirmation battle is going to look like Verdun. Better pick up a few seats.

Somehow I don't see Roberts as wanting it to happen this way. My guess is that Roe gets weakened but doesn't go away. Any case arising out of South Dakota's law - which is a full frontal assault on Roe - is probably not the vehicle for that.

Herb is old school

I think this is funny.

Some folks can look good and think well

Appropos my earlier post on Clooney, Jolie and Aniston, there are some people who are both attractive and intelligent. One such woman is the stunning Mrs. S-squared, the Reddess of Roscommon. Another is conservative actress Bo Derek. Bo will be on O'Reilly tonight. The Reddess will not.

Me am tough on terror.

Charlie Sykes draws our attention to a piece by the formidable
Jonah Goldberg
suggesting that the port controversy has flipped the normal approaches to terror. Bush is reaching out and offering a carrot to the Muslim world, while the Dems are racially profiling potential port managers. Kevin at Lakeshore Laments shares a great cartoon suggesting we have entered a world where everything is the opposite of what it normally is.

This was the conceit of the old Bizarro Superman comics. Everything in the bizarro world was flipped. As the poker-playing Peter points out, we now Bizarro Hilary Clinton suggesting that it would be awful to use public money to allow students to attend the School of the Jihad. Her cultural insensitivity is staggering.

Dumpster diving is not as innocent as it used to be

Joel McNally can't understand why the police would arrest people for going through someone else's garbage. Two words, man: Identity theft.

Watch out where the huskies go

First we had black goo in LA, now we're seeing brown snow in Colorado. If it starts raining frogs, I'm going to get ready to be Raptured.

Blogging away the day

Elliot links to this story about how Americans are accomplishing less at work and, tongue in cheek, suggests that the reason may the expansion of the blogosphere.

While I guess this is nothing new to folks who have been at this longer than I have, I have been watching my traffic for the past week or so. Two things surprised me. The first was the way in which traffic falls on the weekend. Most visits are during the workday.

The second was the number of visits from outside of Wisconsin and the US. In the past week, I think I have got visits from over 25 different countries on every continent except Africa and Antartica. Probably people who were googling for ways to herd sharks.

Lots of traffic from Denmark. I'll have a Carlsberg tonight for you guys.

But now I have to go and practice law.

The courageous Mr. Clooney

Mark Steyn has a fantastic piece in the latest National Review on George Clooney and Hollywood's moral vanity. You have to subscribe to read it on line and I am going to respect the copyright of my favorite magazine, but here's a taste. Responding to Clooney's self-congratulatory twaddle that movies like his own Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana show that "people are getting braver," Steyn writes:

Wow. He was brave enough to make a movie about Islam’s treatment of women? Oh, no, wait. That was the Dutch director Theo van Gogh: He had his throat cut and half-a-dozen bullets pumped into him by an enraged Muslim who left an explanatory note pinned to the dagger he stuck in his chest. At last year’s Oscars, the Hollywood crowd were too busy championing the “right to dissent” in the Bushitler tyranny to find room even to namecheck Mr. van Gogh in the montage of the deceased. Bad karma. Good night, and good luck.

Steyn's piece alone is worth the price on the cover.

Completely beside the point: Is this a difference between men and women? The Reddess used to think Clooney was a studmuffin but now, because of his politics and the brain dead way in which he promotes them, she finds him repulsive. I, on the other hand, still think Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston are hot.

The Meathead is in trouble

Rob Reiner is under fire out on the Left Coast for using public money to fund ads for his ballot initiative creating a constitutional right to four year old preschool. Reiner apparently heads a state commission that oversees the use of tobacco fund to improve child development. The law prohibits use of the money for campaign activity, but Rob knows better.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Its our fault - again

Jay Bullock, commenting on my post on the absence of Jihad in Topeka, directs our attention to an "interesting" point made by Dave Neiwert on Orcinus. The post was too impossibly long for me to wade through, but Jay is referring to Neiwert's take on the Muslims rioting over the Danish cartoons near the end of the post.

Niewert's point? We made them do it!

Of course we don't riot or engage in violence when someone is disrespectful of our culture and our beliefs; we Westerners have been perched in the catbird seat for some time now and can afford to ignore it if we choose. That's not how people on the bottom rung, though, are likely to respond to high-handed mistreatment and disrespect. Making fun of the high and mighty and privileged and powerful is an honorable thing, even if not very profitable. Making fun of the downtrodden -- especially from a position of privilege -- is a despicable thing ... but it sure is easy.

Muslims are rioting because the Danish cartoons that sparked the anger have come to symbolize the ethnic arrogance of Europeans and Americans, typified by ethnic slurs like "ragheads," that they blame as the engines of their dienfranchisement, and from which they now believe they are finally able to rise up and restore their societies. Certainly the way that Westerners on both sides of the Atlantic have responded to the riots -- holding them up as evidence of innate Muslim barbarism -- has only served to deepen that anger

As an intial matter, the Christian fundamentalists that the left likes to make fun of are neither high and mighty nor privileged and powerful. There is nothing easier than taking a shot at Jerry Falwell. And taking a shot at those who are high and mighty can be enormously profitable. Ward Churchill doesn't pull down sweet speaking fees because of his scholarship.

Niewert's post (or, at least, that part of it) reflects the typical tendency on the left to romanticize "the other" as long as they seem to be part of an historic "out" group for which the left has sympathy. "You see they don't really want to impose their religious views by force; they are just expressing righteous anger over the way in which they have been oppressed."

You'd have to remind me of the way in which the Saudis and Islamic theocracies in the Gulf are being "oppressed." It is not self-evident to me why societies that execute people for the violation of sharia law or for disrespect of the dominant religion in that society are doing so because of "disenfranchisement."

I'd also need to be refreshed on all that European and American arrogance. After 9-11, the President just about tied himself into knots insisting that Islam is a religion of peace and that a majority of Muslims oppose violent jihad. I don't believe in calling anyone a "raghead" but when people go around blowing up buildings and others, a certain anger results which, unfortunately, is not always expressed in ways that are measured and fair. My ancestral countrymen were once called "krauts" in polite circles and, truth be told, they sort of brought it on themselves.

"Raghead" is not an accepted term in serious public discourse as the pretty much universal condemnation of Ann Coulter reflects. Denunciation of Islam is pretty much forbidden even to the point of the term "War on Terror." Liberals get apoplectic about that phrase because "terror is a tactic, not an enemy." They're right but would they prefer we speak of the war on Islamofacism?

More fundamentally, this approach, while it romanticizes the supposedly "downtrodden," also fails to take them seriously. They can't really want to defend and spread their religion by force. Its just because of what we have done to them. It is all about us.

But sometimes it isn't about us. There is a very dangerous strand within Islam. Ignoring it won't make it go away. If that doesn't fit easily within the construct of the left's standard morality play involving the nobility of the South, too bad.

Let's not blame the lawyer

About a month ago, I blogged on the sanctions awarded against local attorney James Donohoo for pursuing a defamtation case against a pastor who was publicly said to have called for, or at least to have made sport of, the shooting of gays. Based on news reports, it seemed to me like Donohoo should not have brought the case, but that sanctioning him for it seemed a bit unusual given the general reluctance, on to adamant refusal, of most judges with respect to sanctions.

Shortly after that, Atty. Donohoo was provided some additional information to me (and to Jessica McBride who also blogged on this) which makes me less critical of his case and more concerned about the sanctions. I have been meaning to post on it and the recent report by the Spice Boys that the defendants lawyers have attached his bank account gives me an excuse.

According to Donohoo, his client did utter the words "God has delivered them into our hands . . . boom, boom, boom . . . there's twenty! Ca-ching! Glory, Glory to God." These were characterized by the defendants as referring to the killing of gays. However, Donohoo says that his client actually said these words in the course of describing the biblical story of Jonathan and his armor-bearers slaying the Philistines in 1 Samuel 14:1-15. Accoring to Donohoo, he then went on to compare Jonathan's willingness to fight to what he thought ought to be his audience's willingness to fight politically against gay marriage, etc. According to Donohoo, the pastor was clear in claiming that the "fight" he was calling for was political.

If that's right, then claiming that Donohoo's client was calling for the murder of gays is kind of like saying that Pat Buchanan was calling for his supporters to slay his rivals for the 1996 GOP nomination when he urged them to ride to the sound of the guns.

Given the standard that applies in defamation cases of this type, it still seems like the case was not strong. But that doesn't matter. For all I know, there are still other facts that make it stronger. It does seem, even more than before, that the standard applied to find the Donohoo's argument that the defendants had maliciously misinterpreted his client's remarks was not the one that routinely gets applied.

This is particularly troubling given that Donohoo was representing a politically unpopular client. I am probably what you would call moderate on gay and lesbian issues, but I am not so certain about dismissing those who feel otherwise as "homophobic" and "haters" (as opposed to "wrong"). The speed at which those who hold more traditional views regarding the morality and social acceptability of homosexuality have become untouchables is staggering. My own view is that we ought to be more tolerant than we have in the past, but I worry a bit when a new public virtue becomes the only position that reasonable people are supposed to hold quite this quickly. What could we be missing in our rush to righteousness?

Has Willie Horton been furloughed again?

Lefty blogger Carrie Lynch busts on attorney general candidate Paul Bucher for criticizing Democratic opponent Katie Falk's plan to "divert" from incarceration half of offenders sentenced to two years in prison or less. Bucher posts the mug shots of a variety of criminals who apparently went on to commit violent crimes after initial non-violent offenses. He devotes special attention to a guy who, after having been sentenced to two years in prison for taking a vehicle without the owner's consent, raped and murdered a woman. The offender in that case is African-American.

For Lynch this is racist, vile and reminiscent of the WIllie Horton ad. Without getting into the merits of Bucher's argument, I have never seen the logic of the argument that it is somehow racist to talk about crime if the perpetrator - or a disproportionate number of perpetrators - are black.

I can see why Bucher chose to highlight Kimani Ward. He committed a particularly horrific crime. It was inevitable that Willie Horton would come up in Dukakis campaign for president. You had a governor who supported a controversial furlough program and one of the furloughed convicts went out and raped and murdered someone.
If that happens, you are going to take heat for it. Politics ain't beanbag.

But, they say, why do you have to show the picture? I guess because politicians try to dramatize their arguments. Why do Dems criticizing conservatives for not being sufficiently fanatical on environmental legislation run shots of extreme examples of pollution that no one would permit? Why did the NAACP, in an ad that was infinitely more vile than the Horton ad because it tried to connect two things that had nothing to do with each other, show images of the lynching of James Byrd? People in mug shots tend to look scary and dangerous and that is precisely Bucher's point. If the "nonviolent" offender who committed a particularly brutal crime is African-American or if the guy who rapes and murders a woman while on he's out on a weekend pass happens to be black, those are just the unfortunate facts.

As for Lynch's argument that Wisconsin voters don't respond to "tough-on-crime" rhetoric, I can't think of anyone making a more tone-deaf political statement.

(As an aside, Horton ad that was actually run by George 41's campaign did not show Horton's picture and actually featured predominantly white criminals passing through a revolving door. The ad that did include his picture was run by an independent group.)

Taxpayer Protection Amendment Exhibit 1

Bruce Murphy reports that the average salary of a full professor at MATC is more then $ 91,000, far more than the average at UW and, I think it would be safe to say, Marquette. The instructors at MATC have a higher teaching load (although, at least in the academic areas, they teach at a far more basic level)but have no expectations with respect to research and are, not to put too fine a point on it, generally (maybe even universally) less credentialed and accomplished than profs at the universities.

Murphy notes that MATC operates "under the radar" but much of the nuts and bolts decisions made by other units of government also draw little attention. More fundamentally, he suggests that one of the reasons for this bizarre salary level is that MATC has a source of revenue, i.e., its ability to levy a property tax, that the UW does not have. The absence of additional revenue, in other words, has limited salaries at UW. Costs at MATC have expanded to consume the "available" money.

Discuss among yourselves.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mohammed cartoons on campus

One of my favorite groups, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)has reported on reactions on campus to the posting of the Danish cartoons:

Although censorship in response to displays of the cartoons has been rare, it has indeed occurred. At Century College in Minnesota, adjunct professor of geography Karen Murdock posted the 12 original cartoons, articles about the resultant international controversy, and comment sheets on a bulletin board near her office. After the cartoons were anonymously torn down several times, Murdock reported that her division head removed the cartoons and a university administrator requested that she not repost them.

Some Muslim students also wrote a letter saying they were “heartbroken” to see that Murdock had posted the cartoons, claiming that “[d]uring the last week, this incident had a very negative impact on our ability to concentrate on our studies.” While no disciplinary action was taken against Murdock, she has not reposted the cartoons out of fear of possible fallout. She told FIRE, “When a division chairman and a college vice president both tell an untenured adjunct professor that something should not be posted on a bulletin board, this is a suggestion that has the force of a direct order. The cartoons would still be posted if I felt that I had a say in the matter.”

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, student editors Acton Gorton and Chuck Prochaska printed six of the original 12 cartoons in the independent student paper The Daily Illini. The Chicago Tribune reported on February 14 that the Illini’s board of directors, composed of staff and students, dismissed Gorton and Prochaska for failing to consult with “other student editors and staff members” in making the decision to print the cartoons. The paper then ran an editorial apologizing for printing the cartoons and calling Gorton “a renegade editor who firmly believes that his will is also the will of the paper.”

The Chicago Maroon reported on February 17 that an anonymous University of Chicago student hung a homemade sketch of Mohammed with a caption reading “Mo’ Mohammed, Mo’ Problems” outside his dorm room. After receiving a complaint about the sketch, Resident Head Andrea Gates ordered it removed and reported the student who had posted it to the Housing Office for a possible investigation. The student removed the sketch and issued a written apology. The university has taken no further action, and FIRE continues to investigate the situation.

Similarly, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), student Mitchell Foley reported to FIRE that he had posted the 12 cartoons on his dorm room door until his resident assistant told him to remove them. He removed the cartoons and has not reposted them; RPI has not commented on the situation

FIRE reports that campus newspapers have reprinted the cartoons at an number of schools without official reaction, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard.

Jihad in Topeka ?

The Thomas More Law Center has asked the Supreme Court to review a ruling by the 10th Circuit that a sculpture at Washburn University in Kansas was not "hostile to religion" in violation of the Establishment Clause.

The sculpture in question depicts a Roman Catholic bishop with a grotesque facial expression holding a miter that resembles a phallus. It is entitled "Holier than Thou" and contains what a Roman Catholic (or an Anglican, for that matter) would regard as heretical and derisive statements regarding the concept of penance as a part of reconciliation. It was paid for with public funds and prominently displayed outside the student union.

A couple of thoughts.

1. I missed the riots through the streets of Topeka. Where were all the nuns, priests and even Dad29 firing kalishnikovs into the air and demanding death for the infidels? How is it that the Washburn student union has been left standing? Had the religious community "expressed its pain," then perhaps the university would have concluded that "sensitivity" requires that it not display something so offensive to some members of that community.

2. The Thomas More Law Center is trying to hoist the Supreme Court on the petard of its own incoherent Establishment Clause jurisprudence. The Court's recent decisions have been dominated by Justice O'Connor's "endorsement" test. She argued that the government "establishes" religion (or, if you prefer, violates the "separation of church and state") when it endorses religion in a way that makes dissenters feel like they are outsiders; disfavored members of the political community." Thus, she concluded, display of the Ten Commandments was improper because non-believers would think that the state was endorsing religion (and, in particular, the Abrahamic faiths). The Court says that this applies to the endorsement of "non-religion" as well, but has never really squarely held that something hostile to religion endorses non-religion. The Washburn case presents the question in a way that is hard to avoid. If the Ten Commandments can make an atheist feel excluded, how is this sculpture going to make a Roman Catholic feel?

3. My hope is that the Court, now sans Justice O'Connor, will abandon the whole concept of endorsement as establishment. In a society where schools teach more than the 3-Rs and government endeavors to address social problems and itself participates in the public debate (by, for example, putting statues outside the student union), it is impossible to be neutral between religion and irreligion. My own view is that the state of Kansas is free to display this sculpture (although it shouldn't) and the Ten Commandments.

The morning after in OZ

Owen at Boots and Sabers praises us in Mequon for voting "no" on a referendum to exceed school revenue limits. Owen writes:

This is great because the teachers’ union and school officials pulled out ALL of the stops to get this passed. They sent home multiple fliers with the kids (yes, that’s probably not legal). They put up signs, canvassed neighborhoods, bullied people who opposed it, drove supporters to the polls, sent absentee ballots to college students who don’t even live in Mequon anymore, and even scheduled the election for such an obscure day in February. They did EVERYTHING to get this passed.

I agree with everything that he says, but my conclusion is a bit different. They did not do the one thing that they needed to do and that is reach out to those who they did not feel were their natural allies. The brochure I got when they canvassed my neighborhood just assumed the need for more money. It basically said that the sky would fall in if they didn't have more money without even attempting to explain why it was so. There was a sense that they would have preferred that as few people as possible outside the "school community" knew this was happening.

I would hope that school districts get the message that passsing these referenda is going to require a lot more heavy lifting. Your natural constituencies will not get you over the top and you're going to have to explain just why it is that you haven't been able to live within the revenue limitations.

In other words, M-T did not do EVERYTHING that it needed to do. So it lost.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Jed does it again

A black goo is bubbling up in Los Angeles?

Voter Disenfranchisement Alert !

A co-worker went to vote on the referendum in Mequon and was asked to, please sit down and brace yourself, photo id ! When he didn't have it, they would not let him vote! He had to go home and get it! When asked why he was "marked" as having to show id, he was told that the State Elections Board required it because he had an "old form" of registration. The city clerk's office was unable to explain what distinguished an old registration from a new one and why the difference it could not explain required photo identification.

Of course,he was voting for the referendum. Welcome to George Bush's America, man!

Update: The city says that the request was required for implementation of the Statewide Voter Registration System mandated by the Helping America Vote Act. Apparently, they need to have your driver's license number or, if you don't have a license, the last four digits of your social security number. They say you'll never be asked again which makes the value of the whole exercise a bit wispy.
I wonder if anyone will think to look at the numbers and try to determine how many people who actually vote lack ID?

We have all been here before ...

Eugene Kane has once again provided fodder for his conservative critics by writing a column in which he says that he can now watch the Olympics because he has a "brother" to root for in speedskater Shani Davis. He adds fuel to the fire by suggesting, although not really trying to establish, that Davis' conflict with his teammates over his failure to participate in a team event and his less than winning public persona are the products of racism.

My brothers and sisters on the right side of the Cheddarsphere will be all over him. (I think my wife has already sent an e-mail.) Kane's supporters in the newsroom will shake their heads over all the "nasty" e-mails that he gets (and I am sure that some of them will be vile).

Why does he do it? Because he can. Why do we do it? Because we must. But I'm ready for a new act; something that Kane is quite capable of. This one has gotten old.

Stupidity is not a crime

After I wrote a column in the MJS on the Danish cartoons, I began to get e-mails from a neo-Nazi group (and they were more Nazi than neo)complaining about the fact that Holocaust denial is a crime in Europe. Now David Irving, a historian of little merit, has been sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court for giving a speech in 1989 in which he claimed that the Nazis did not exterminate millions of Jews. He apparently admitted that he was wrong after his arrest. No matter.

Given my strong support for PM Rasmussen and the Jyllands-Posten, I should say that I think this is wrong as well. I am sympathetic that countries like Germany, in light of the horror that it wrought, would want to ensure that future generations always remembered. (The Austrian law in question was passed in 1947.)

But the truth is best served by free and open inquiry. Period. Enforced orthodoxies, even then they are true, tend to become brittle. In a fallen world, governments with the power to silence dissent can't be trusted to limit themselves to silencing only that which has no value. Free and open debate has a tendency to expose dreck for what it is.

Irving is a case in point. He was thoroughly discredited and financially ruined long before he was arrested in Austria. Now he'll have a second life as a martyr.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Still reading Reschovsky

One interesting note about the oft-cited Reschovsky study that says Wisconsin ranks 23rd in the country in general revenue per $1000/personal income. If, as seems to be the case, he is using the rankings for general state and local revenue from this 2005 Legislative Fiscal Bureau report, the numbers apparently use federal revenue. This lowers Wisconsin's ranking because we don't do too well at the federal trough. When you consider general revenue from our "own sources," we actually rank 15th.

More significantly, it is not at all clear to me that the more pertinent measurement is not taxes, rather than general revenue. When you limit the query to state and local taxes, we are 6th or 13% above average. In the face of this , opponents of the amendment want to change the subject to general revenue from all sources. But there is a difference between a tax and most forms of fee. The latter is compulsory while the former may not be to the extent that one can avoid using a particular state service. A fee is not always just a tax by another name.

All this and other types of wonky goodness can be found in this 2005 Legislative Fiscal Bureau report.

h/t: Seth Zlochota

A moment of candor

Seth of In Effect says the following in the comments section on Thought Experiment No. 4 below:

Amendment opponents also largely believe that budgetary decisions should privilege the discussion of the actual services provided by governments, rather than putting cost as the primary dictator of public policy. Cost should certainly be considered, but any constitutional amendment that caps the growth of public services is not putting those public services first.

That's pithy, accurate and, in my view, illustrates why the WTPA is a good idea. Why, exactly, would the legislative process "privilege" the discussion of the provision of government services over their cost. Shouldn't legislators be just as concerned over what the state can afford? Shouldn't they treat the amount of money that they have to work with as a brutal reality that cannot easily be avoided.

But they don't, as Seth recognizes in suggesting that the legislative process privileges focus on services over focus on their cost. This is because the particular interest of those who benefit from, or provide those services, is, for any particular program, more intense than that of those who pay taxes. The WTPA is, as Seth would put it, an effort to "privilege" or, as I would put it, balance the interests of those who pay against those who receive.

My view is that the state will be better off in the long run because legislators will be forced to make the hard choices that they currently avoid.

But it was Christmas ...

From the state GOP:

Trial lawyers flooded Jim Doyle's campaign coffers with thousands of dollars the week he vetoed a bi-partisan bill that would have restored sensible medical malpractice caps. Records show that trial lawyers donated more than $20,000 to Doyle from December 1, 2005 to December 9, 2005. The governor vetoed a bi-partisan bill restoring medical malpractice caps late in the afternoon of Friday, December 2, 2005

Lot. No. 1 is a brand new casino In Kenosha

Gov. James Doyle (D-Sotheby's), pictured here, was hard at work on Monday resolving the dispute between the Forest County Potawatomi and Menominee over the approval of a new casino in Kenosha.

Its not just about free speech

Jessica McBride links to an explanation by Flemming Rose, the editor of the Jyllands-Posten as to why he ran the Mohammed cartoons. Three things caught my attention. First, Rose responds to the idea that it was disrepectful to publish Mohammed's image because Islam (or at least some factions within it)prohibit depicting the Prophet:

When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission.

The other thing that struck me is his defense of the now infamous cartoon of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped into a bomb:

One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name.

I would take this a step further. If - as is undeniably the case - a significant element of Islam has decided that it has a religious duty to attack nonbelievers, then the presuppositions and images of Islam are no longer of concern only to Muslims. If some Muslims are going to argue that Islam requires flying planes into buildings and blowing up trains and busses, those of us who would be the victims are going to push back. We're going to hold that idea up to the ridicule it deserves.

If some Christian cleric decided to preach a 21st century Crusade, I'd expect both Christians and Muslims to point out the incompatability of that with the teachings of Christ and I suspect that, sometimes, it would be done in a way that makes us uncomfortable. That might even be what makes it effective.

Which brings me to the last thing that struck me in Rose's piece:

In January, Jyllands-Posten ran three full pages of interviews and photos of moderate Muslims saying no to being represented by the imams. They insist that their faith is compatible with a modern secular democracy. A network of moderate Muslims committed to the constitution has been established, and the anti-immigration People's Party called on its members to differentiate between radical and moderate Muslims, i.e. between Muslims propagating sharia law and Muslims accepting the rule of secular law. The Muslim face of Denmark has changed, and it is becoming clear that this is not a debate between "them" and "us," but between those committed to democracy in Denmark and those who are not.

... In the words of the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the integration of Muslims into European societies has been sped up by 300 years due to the cartoons; perhaps we do not need to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again in Europe.

A friend in Copenhagen e-mailed me this morning that "it is not over yet", but let's hope and pray that Rose and Ali are right.

Thought Experiment No. 4

Opponents of the WTPA are making much of the fact that it caps revenue increases through the use of the CPI rather than growth in personal income. This, oh horror, will result if government becoming a smaller part of the state's economy. We ought to at least ensure that government gets a stable share of state income, need it or not.

There seems to be some dispute over whether state and local spending has outstripped the growth in personal income. Reschovsky argues that state revenues have declined as a percentage of personal income (although a more reasonable way of putting it is that it increased, declined and has now more or less returned to the 1985 level). A 2004 study by Richard Chandler for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, on the other hand, claims that state and local spending increased as a percentage of personal income between 1986 and 2002.

The idea that government is "entitled" to a constant share of personal income is problematic. Generally, in managing personal and organizational finances, one tries to reduce all expenses as a percentage of income. But this is a thought experiment, so let's put that aside.

What if the WTPA allowed revenue increases commensurate with the growth in personal income? The party of government would retain its tribute and the rest of us would at least know that the state will not grow larger without our express approval.

Wouldn't that solve the problem?

Any liberal and Democrat readers can leave their endorsements in the comments section.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

I find it amazing that at the Huffington Post (H-Bomb) its all Cheney's Accident All the Time. Perhaps the most unintentionally revealing piece is this one suggesting that Whittington's concern for the guy who accidentally shot him could only have been caused by fear or, in any event, is so incongruous as to be the occasion for satire.

Gee, guys, do you think that Whittington may have learned, in all those 78 years, that accidents happen and that its not all about him? Do you think he may regard emphasizing his victimization as classless?

Children Are the Littlest Politicians

Political scientists are pondering the observation that people with sons are more likely to identify as Republicans and that those with daughters are more likely to be Democrats. The pols offer a bunch of reasons - men work harder, earn more and want to pay lower taxes; parents with boys go a-huntin' and a-fishin' and meet conservatives; and people with daughters understand that sometimes you can't make it on your own.

I am skeptical about whether this really stands up to scrutiny and, of course, I am not without my own stake in the game. When it comes to kids and (even at my young age) grandkids, I've got sons all day. The House of Esenberg lives on!

How about this: the Dems have identified with the notion that women are an underclass; a group of people who are victimized and need help. To the extent that you buy into that view, you'll be more sympathetic to policies that are designed to help women rise above the man's world that they must live in. Abortion, Title IX, comparable worth, cultural feminism. Its all good.

The parents of sons may be less likely to see them as oppressors.

Don't bother us with the facts

A study by a team of researchers in New Zealand suggests that abortion is associated with subsequent mental health problems in young women. When Warren Throckmorton of the Washington Times asked the American Psychological Association how this finding might effect its advocacy of abortion rights, he was essentially told that "it doesn't matter.". An APA spokesperson said that "[t]o pro-choice advocates, mental health effects are not relevant to the legal context of arguments to restrict access to abortion." She went on to say that evidence of negative effects of abortion would be relevant only to give women the information they require to make an informed choice.

But if that's the case, then why does the APA even have a position on abortion as opposed to simply disseminating the information required for an "informed" choice? It offers, if anything at all, insight into psychological issues, not into what should and should not be a civil right.

Professional organizations, like the APA and our own American Bar Association, are frequently hijacked by people with a political ax to grind. No one else cares enough to play the type of professional politics required to gain influence in these groups. Keep that in mind the next time someone offers the "considered" position of a professional organization as a supposedly disinterested source of authority. That is rarely the case.

SAGE vs. the MPCP

Brian Fraley does a service by linking to the WPRI study of the SAGE program. I know that some people are going to start the "WPRI is right wing" chant but the conclusions of its report really don't seem all that different from the more recent WCER evaluation. It is far from clear that there is any more evidence of SAGE's effectiveness than there is of the MPCP. In fact it might just be that MPCP has stronger empirical support than SAGE since SAGE's positive evaluations seem to come from people who contracted with DPI for the evaluation and DPI is hardly disinterested. Yet we're spending just as much on SAGE (which is not just a Milwaukee program) than on the MPCP.

Perhaps the Doyle/Gard deal should be amended to include a more rigorous and independent evaluation of SAGE.

Why is UW so expensive?

This morning's MJS included a thumbsucker on increases in UW tuition and the way in which it keeps low income students out of college. I'm not so sure that the article makes its case. That students don't want to take out loans does not amount to a crisis. I seem to recall that students took out college loans back in the 70s (when the financial advantages of higher education were much less pronounced than they are today) and it is not self-evident why someone ought not be obligated to finance a portion of his or her own education. Loans make that possible for people who presently lack the means to do so.

A more interesting question is why the cost of higher education has risen at a rate greater than the rate of inflation. In preparing a recent column for the MJS (this one), I looked at the long term trend on state assistance to the UW. Its gone down recently but over the long run, its been relatively stable in real terms. Yet the UW's budget - and tuition - has increased at a rate that exceeds inflation for just about forever. Why has that been necessary? There's a series I'd like to see the paper tackle.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

I must defend the Wal-Mart

Jenna at Right Off the Shore and John McAdams at Marquette Warrior have commented on the New York Times' recent report on the release of internal Wal-Mart e-mails from a company forum in which managers get to ask questions of CEO H. Lee Scott.

As I have blogged before, I don't much like Wal-Mart and am probably in the bottom 1% of American consumers ranked by trips to a Wal-Mart. Basically, I haven't been.

But what I found interesting in the Times piece, in addition to the items discussed by John and Jenna, is the following comment by Scott on Wal-Mart's recent sluggish sales:

"Wal-Mart's focus has been on lower income and lower-middle income consumers," he wrote. "In the last four years or so, with the price of fuel being what it is, that customer has had the most difficult time. The upper-end customer got a tremendous number of tax breaks about four years ago. They have been doing very well in this economy."

He said having to pay $50 to gas up a car did not change anything for rich customers, but did for those who didn't earn a lot. "It changes whether or not you go to the movie, whether or not you buy new sheets, whether or not you go out to eat."

As much as it must drive the left crazy, there is a great deal of truth in this. Wal-Mart has succeeded by providing adequate goods at phenomenally low prices to people who can't afford more. They have done it, in part, by paying employees in pretty much the same way that retailers have always done and - this is their innovation - by beating the bejesus out of their suppliers. I wonder if, at the end of the day, Wal Mart hasn't transferred income downward.

Thought Experiment No. 3

The teachers unions are given to paeans to the teaching profession. I'm sympathetic. Its an important job. In fact, wouldn't the unions agree that the most important factor in quality education is the quality of teachers? This is presumably why it is not scandalous that something like 87% of MPS' budget goes to salaries and benefits.

So ensuring teacher quality. Nothing is more important.

Now, in every other endeavor in life in which the quality of a professional is important, we do two things. One, we pay those who are good more than those who are merely adequate. Two, we fire those who are no longer performing.

When it comes to teachers, we do neither of these things. (Don't start with MPS' TEAM program. Based on its own numbers, its a joke.)So isn't the most critical educational reform an end to teacher tenure and the introduction of merit pay? In fact, why would we commit any additional resources to education (an enterprise which has seen, over the past 40 years or so, an enormous increase in resources and a significant decline in accomplishment) until this vital reform is secured.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I'm torn on this

The state apparently provides free contraceptives to low-income women between the ages of 15 and 45 (virtually all women under 18 are considered low income). Some Republicans are trying to increase the minimum age to 18. (Doff of the cap to Dad29.) Kelda Helen Roys, executive director of Pro-Choice Wisconsin, in a bit of a non sequitur, is quoted as saying that "[w]hen we give teens accurate information about sex, we empower them to make healthy choices...."

But children under 18 are presumed incapable of making a choice to have sex. If you have sex with a sixteen year-old who is not your spouse, you have committed a class A misdemeanor. If he or she is under 16, you're looking at a felony. Nothing in the law will excuse you because you are also under 18.

So why do we wish to empower children to make a choice that we believe they are incapable of making? The only answer I can think of is that we don't believe we can stop them. And maybe we can't. We live in a highly sexualized culture in which the inhibition against pre-marital - and even casual - sex has been systematically deconstructed. While my own sense is that his was intentional and not inevitable, I am not convinced that it could ever be undone.

But there was a price to pay for this; a price paid in out-of-wedlock births, abortions, divorce and, if you believe the laments of many young women, a diminished capacity for intimacy. If parents want to resist this, is it really that outrageous to say that the state will not frustrate their efforts? Would requiring parental consent for kids under 18 be all that ridiculous? The oft-repeated claim that some families "can't talk about" sex is, more often than not, another way so saying that some parents won't consent.

So its back to "we can't stop them." But should it really be the policy of the state become complicit in a 15 year old's efforts to defy his or her parents?

Reading Reschovsky

The Dems are all aflutter about the analysis by UW Professor Andrew Reschovsky of the "devastating impact" of the Taxpayer Protection Amendment. Basically, Reschovsky calculates that, had TPA been enacted in 1985 and its revenure caps had never been exceed, state government would have to spend 30% (or 5 billion dollars)less than it actually spent in 2005. You can read some of our liberal friends being impressed by this here and here.That this would be a disaster is assumed, if not proven. What would you cut, they ask, and some conservatives have tried to provide an answer.

More fundamentally, Reschovsky argues that, by capping revenue growth by the rate of inflation, the TPA would have reduced government as a percentage of the state's economy which, over the period in question, grew in real terms (i.e., personal income growth beat inflation). Thus, he concludes, the TPA is a ruse to reduce the percentage of the income that goes to government.

My initial response to this is sort of along the lines of "No s***, Sherlock." As income grows faster than inflation (something which doesn't necessarily happen and which might not happen over the next twenty years), we are generally able to devote that additional income to new things. Over time, the percentage of income that human beings spend on meeting their basic needs has declined. That's progress.

So there is no Platonic Ideal that says that the percentage of income that goes to government must remain the same at all times and in all places. Reschovsky's answer seems to be little more than "we can afford it" and therein lies the rub. If the money is there, it will be spent.

What have we gained by allowing government to grow at a rate greater than the rate of inflation. If goverment has gotten a "real" (after inflation) increase in income, has it delivered more to the taxpayers? Are the roads better? Are the schools more effective? Have we pulled more people out of poverty? I am skeptical.

And Reschovsky, unwittingly, provides the reason that none of this has happened. The reason, in his view, that government has "had to" grow at a rate higher than the rate of inflation is that the things which government must pay for have increased at a faster rate.

What are those things? Here is the money line:

"A substantial share of their budgets goes to pay for the services of highly-skilled labor, for example, police officers, teachers and doctors.>" Although throwing doctors in there is misleading (the state doesn't employ a lot of doctors and its reimbursements for medical services apart from its employee benefit packages are well below market), he's got it exactly right. The state's cost have increased at a pace above the rate of inflation because its labor costs - what it pays to state employees in wages and benefits - have done so. Reschovsky makes this sound like it is the result of the inexorable operation of the free market, but that just isn't so. The wages of these particular "highly-skilled" laborers is set through negotiations with politically powerful public employee unions; special and highly-invested interests who exert a disproportionate influence over the political process.

And that's the rationale for the TPA. Its an attempt to redress an imbalance on the playing field by requiring that increases that exceed the general increase in the cost of living and in the number of citizens to be served should be taken to the people.

Personally, I'd prefer that the authorization to exceed caps be undertaken by a legislative super-majority since I dislike referenda. But the idea that there must be greater intentionality to permit government to simply expand to take the next available money has merit. As Reschovsky's study unintentionally demonstrates.

Tasteless. Mean-spirited. Still funny.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dog! Gone!

Champion Bohem C'est La Vie (pictured here), who answers (well, responds anyway)to "Vivi" escaped from her handlers at JFK Airport, choosing to return to Manhattan after winning an award of merit at the Westminster Dog Show.

Appearing later in the day on Springer, the three year old whippet, circled three times before a howling crowd of mutts and backyard breeds, saying that the judges "gonna have to handle my s***" and that "y'all can just call me the next American Idol."

Shark and Shepherd on the Air

I will be playing my usual role as resident wingnut on Eric Von's Backstory segment this afternoon from 4:30 to 6:00. (WMCS-1290) Come and listen to the Truth!

Past the City Limits

I didn't know that I got a little love from Jessica McBride in the GM Today column on local blogs which was longer than her Freeman column. I assume that the Freeman is just as fascist about word limits as the Journal-Sentinel. (Ricardo, Ernie and Mabel: just kidding; you know I love you guys!) I made the "broader" list (i.e., the second cut). I appreciate it.

And it seems fair. I have nothing against Waukesha but about the only time I find myself there is on the way to Madison. I have little sense of what goes on there.

But I also have little sense of what goes on in Ozaukee County either. For a guy that lives in Mequon, I'm rather city-centric. I have never written about anything Oz.

But now we have a school referendum in Mequon and apparently the world will end if we don't exceed revenue limits. My son graduated from Homestead in '02. I graduated from Greenfield in '74. The one thing that struck me about Homestead is that, compared to where I went to school, it was the Taj Mahal. I'm keeping an open mind, but someone has some persuading to do.

Leave Mr. Whittington Alone?

Marcus Aurelius at Blogger Beer raises the issue of HIPAA (the law that gives you the absolute right to keep your hang nail to yourself!) with respect to Mr. Whittington's condition. This wouldn't apply to the fact of the shooting and it wouldn't apply to otherwise confidential information that is released to a non-health care provider (like Scott McClellan), but it does suggest that there is cause, at least by the spirit if not the letter of the law, for some circumspection about Mr. Whittingon's condition.

True story: Last year my wife goes in for a cervical spine fusion. Hardly a mark of shame. She was a figure skater well into her 30s, but she's open about it. She warns young girls that even Dorothy Hamill wound up with an Ibuprofen jones. Anyway, our priest is nice enough to come to the hospital to say a few prayers and wish her well. But she arrives before we do, so she goes up to the information desk and asks for the Reddess of Roscommon (well, not exactly, but in substance). So here is a woman in a frickin' clerical collar asking for a patient about to have neck surgery. You don't need a translator to figure out what that's about. I kind of doubt she's trolling for new members. But the info desk refuses to tell her if KFM has arrived. HIPAA, you know.

So we're now supposed to see Whittington's cardiac cath screen on the internet. And within no more than 15 minutes, please. Give me a break.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


The NAACP gives 51 of 55 GOP Senators and 98% of Republican house members a grade of "F" on its "Civil Rights Legislative Report Card." Here's how many of the 20 bills that the NAACP rated legislators on related to what most people would regard as "civil rights."

None. Well. Maybe one. The NAACP supported a Ted Kennedy amendment to exempt civil rights litigation from the class action reform bill. I can't see how that would advance the cause of civil rights but Teddy works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform, so I'll give them this one.

All of the other votes had to do with spending money on stuff, approving CAFTA or opposing the President's judicial nominees. In other words, the NAACP rated legislators on whether they were liberal. That is, of course, its right to do and it can even argue that liberal policies are better for black people. But its misleading to suggest that they are about "civil rights."

Law schools better not follow the law

David Berstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says the American Bar Association plans to require law schools seeking its stamp of approval (which is essential for any law school) to maintain racial, gender and ethnic diversity in admissions and hiring. That's not surprising.

But it is surprising - no, actually its shocking - that the ABA says that "the requirements of a constitutional provision or statute that purports to prohibit consideration of gender, race, ethnicity or national origin in admissions or employment decisions is not a justification for a school's non-compliance...." In other words, our nation's national organization of lawyers is telling law schools that they better get their racial and gender numbers in order (actually, this is all about race; gender disparities disappeared in law schools a long time ago) and, if they have to ignore the law to do it, well, there's never been an omelette made without breaking some eggs.

This reminds me why I refuse to belong to the ABA.

Doyle gets out of the school house door?

Did Doyle cave on school choice? The deal seems to be a 50% cap increase, some requirement of some form of accreditation and no poison pill on funding (indeed, no change in funding at all). There will apparently be some increase in SAGE funding. The cap increase should be adequate for a while. I haven't got a huge problem regarding some form of accreditation as long as its reasonably flexible. The "fly-by-night" choice schools aren't really helping anyone and gave the opposition unnecessary ammunition.

I guess the increased funding for SAGE will be Doyle's sop to WEAC. Milwaukee taxpayers, I guess, can go and eat cake. I think some adjustment in the funding formula could have been justified (although one could also argue that defections to choice should sting), but its not hard to see who Doyle thinks his real friends are.

The devil is in the details, but I think this is an acceptable outcome.

Give us your scared, your long hairs on the lam, yearning for self preservation

I am old enough - barely - to have opposed the War in Vietnam and I am still not prepared to say I was wrong (although I will admit that, at 14, I knew far less than I thought I did). War is a grave matter and, in Vietnam, I don't know that the stakes were high enough. I won't even call everyone who ran to Canada cowards.

But I can't quite get behind the idea of a Canadian monument to draft resisters. I can't believe that George McGovern, a man who, as misguided as may have been, was nevertheless the nominee of a major political party to become the most powerful man in the world would think it is a good idea to speak at the dedication of such a monument. I shouldn't be surprised, but I am, that the Canadians want to be known as the world's hiding place.

(Hat tip: W. Thomas Smith, Jr.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

And now for something really stupid

Larry O'Donnell blogging at the H-Bomb thinks he knows why Cheney didn't hold a press conference immediately after a hunting accident involving his good friend. He was drunk. Larry knows because he's been at Ivy League football games and everyone knows that if you'll drink before a football game, you'll drink before you try to successfully shoot small birds that dart about at the speed of your average mosquito with live ammunition. I don't hunt, but I do scuba dive. Would I drink at a tailgate before a football game? I'd insist. Would I have a drop before I engage in an activity where a mistake can result in death? Not hardly.

O'Donnell writes:

How do we know there was no alcohol? Cheney refused to talk to local authorities until the next day. No point in giving him a breathalyzer then. Every lawyer I've talked to assumes Cheney was too drunk to talk to the cops after the shooting. The next question for the White House should be: Was Cheney drunk?

I am not aware that he "refused" to talk to local authorities on Saturday (that they interviewed him on Sunday is not the same thing) nor can I fathom why a lawyer would think that he or she was justified in "assuming" that Cheney was drunk. What I do know is that everyone of those lawyers - if he or she was at all competent - would be all fists and teeth if someone made such an assumption about his or her client.

But this is what gets you prime space at a leading liberal blog. No wonder we are kicking these guys for drill.

No one is on the line

21% of Americans apparently think that the feds have listened in on their phone calls. Either a lot more Americans have friends in Ramallah than I would have thought or have a highly inflated sense of their own importance. Or if you screech the phrase "domestic wiretapping" enough, people will start to believe it.


I find this rather curious. Jay at folkbum, channelling Seth at In Effect, disses Alberta Darling for hoping that W-2 moms can get jobs at the renovated Bayshore. Darling is not supposed to have any authority to speak to the problems facing Milwaukee. As Brian Fraley points out, its not clear what these guys want. Should Darling not give a rip about whether poor people can get jobs? Is the problem that we don't let single moms just sit at home and collect welfare? That worked real well. Is it that Bayshore jobs won't pay enough? I guess I wish there was someone who was willing to hire 9000 unskilled people at $25/hr too. I bet even Alberta Darling would like that.


I have two alma maters: UW-Milwaukee and Harvard Law School. The one I love is at Kenwood & Downer. So I would like to give some bloggy love to the UWM Times, the latest incarnation of the conservative paper of that name at Milwaukee. I really love the academy and I really hate the way its come to be an extraordinarily homogeneous institution. Anyone who is promoting intellectual diversity on campus is doing righteous work. The new Times is a start up by a small group of students. Jessica McBride, UWM instructor, give these guys and girls some props.

And since we are talking Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Panthers can clinch a tie for their third straight Horizon League title tomorrow night at the Cell. We're in the situation we are normally in this time of year. Probably going to win the conference tournament, but probably not going to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if we don't. Our chances of the latter may be a bit better this year given that our RPI is somewhere in the 30s and we have an opportunity to get a good Bracketbuster win on Saturday at home against Missouri State. (Next year looks challenging.)

And Marquette still won't play us. I like really like the school but, notwithstanding that they have some good young players, the basketball program can get ebola and die until it comes off its high horse.

Good work if you can get it

Mike Nichols has a nice piece in the MJS about class action litigation. Next time you get one of those notices of settlement in the mail saying you might have been shafted on your cell phone bill or paid a tad too much on your auto lease, check out what the lawyers are getting. It is generally quite a bit. Then check out what you might get (assuming that you can even tell). You will be reminded of the scene in The Jerk where Steve Martin's earthly possessions are hauled away while he writes thousands of checks for "one dollar and nine cents."

The theory behind class actions is that they are legitimate way to stop someone from stealing just a little bit from a lot of people. If your credit card company overcharges you a nickel each month, you may not notice it or, if you dispute their right to that extra five cents, its not worth it to take them to court. If, however, they have fifty million customers, thirty million dollars is at stake each year. Its worth it to the class of all customers to go after that money even if it isn't for any individual class member.

But the flip side is that if you can make a colorable argument for an overcharge and the number of people who were allegedly overcharged is large, the downside of losing is significant. Its safer to settle. But to settle, all you really need to do is satisfy the lawyers because there isn't a real person who is that lawyers' client, just a large group of people who don't even know they are in a law suit. (There are class representatives, but they get bought off too.)

In theory, the whole thing has to be scrutinized by a judge who is supposed to make sure that the lawyers don't get too much and that the class isn't being cheated, but most judges are powerfully inclined to approve settlements. It makes one more case on an overcrowded docket go away.

The Time-Warner settlement that Nichols writes about demonstrates the beauty part for the company. Often the settlement does not involve paying cash to the class members, but instead requires a discount or other credit toward continued use of the company's sevices. So you'll remain a customer. Which makes paying off the lawyers that much more palatable.

The Men - and Women - of National Review.

In honor of V-Day, NRO has a symposium on the men and women that certain of its contributors love. Being homophobic and heteronormative, no admiration of the Brokeback Mountain kind was on offer.

It looks like K-Lo gets around. I mean, she likes a lot of guys.

More Effrontery

The Iranian government is protesting a new cartoon published in the German newspaper Der Tagespiegel depicting Iranian soccer players as suicide bombers. The cartoonist has garnered the customary death threats but I didn't need to tell you that.

I wonder where the cartoonist got such a crazy notion? Perhaps it was here or here.