Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Now its ..."illegal but proper?"

Other bloggers have taken apart Doyle's spin on travelgate and I have little to add. But I do want to take a moment to hand it to the Doyle-ies for, if nothing else. chutzpah. Last week they took relief in learning that Rueben Anthony's hosting of a shake-down cook-out for those seeking DOT contracts was "legal but improper."

A few days, later the spin on Georgia Thompson is that she was just an overzealous employee who liked to "fudge the numbers" to get the state a better deal. It was just coincidental that the recipient of all that fudge was a Doyle contributor.

In other words if our friend did that thing that we all know she didn't do, it was illegal but ... proper.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Whence statesmanship?

Simon Cameron (R.-Pa.)(pictured here - really) was, for a time, President Lincoln"s Secretary of War and then represented Pennsylvania in the Senate from 1867 until 1877. He is famous for noting that "[a]n honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought."

So if Jim Doyle is going to keep Adelman's money, shouldn't he live up to his end of the bargain?

Thought Experiment No. 1

Here's a thought experiment to test how much of the choice controversy actually revolves around accountability. Let's say that we agree that choice schools should all be independently accredited and should administer the same standardized tests as MPS and publicly disclose the results. (Maybe you'd need to tweak these requirements to account for a school's religious character or alternate educational philosophy, but let's put that aside for now.)

Let's also assume that we agree with Mayor Barrett and specify that Milwaukee taxpayers should pay no more than they pay for each kid in MPS, i.e, $1900 or so. So instead of asking Milwaukee taxpayers to come up with 45% of the cost of the choice program, let's just say they need contribute only the same amount per pupil as they pay for each student in MPS.

But since we are going to require all these choice schools to be "accountable," we can't possibly leave them underfunded ! Since the Governor and the teachers unions all believe that money is the sine qua non of educational excellence, I am sure they will agree that the local share of the cost of the choice program (that we have now reduced to $1900/student) should be paid to the choice schools and not to the state. In this way the choice schools will get the same equalization aid and the same local support that MPS enjoys. For both Milwaukee and state taxpayers, there would be no fiscal gain or loss as a result of a student opting to enroll in a choice school.

The out-state legislators might not want to give up the savings, but shouldn't Doyle, the Dems and the unions go for that?

Does anyone believe for one moment that they would?

The Flock I Don't !

Elliott from Where I Sit thinks I don't know what the flock I'm talking about when it comes to religion in the public square. Now, you have to like a guy who makes reference in his blog to the 1978 film The Warriors which is either a piece of genius or so awful that it seems like one.

Actually, its not clear that Elliott and I completely disagree since he says that he has "no objection to including religion in any discussion about morality." I was concerned largely with those who do object and, if you don't think that's a widespread view, look at all those who have criticized Bush for God-talk. For examples, look here and here.

But I still want to respond to Elliott's suggestion that we can still have a pretty good conversation about moral values without resort to people's religious presuppositions.

Elliot says: "By linking morality intrinsically to religion you beg the question, which religion? Would the morals of a Mormen be the same as a Mayan? And if not, which are “correct?” I say: I suspect that the Mormon and Mayan might disagree on some things (human sacrifice immediately comes to mind), although the example is a bit misleading. On the ground - at least in the US - there is fairly broad agreement on Judeo-Christian foundational principles (which are shared by many other religious traditions), i.e., all people are created equal; persons should not be used as ends; life is sacred, etc. We may then reason (see below) from these principles to radically different conclusions, but we actually agree more than we know on where to start.

Elliott says: "It frees an atheist or an agnositc to believe that no code of morality applies to him or her." I say: I can't see why. I was careful to say that not all moral values must be rooted in religion (although what people often regard as their purely secular values often owe far more to religion that they realize)and the atheist and agnostics are free to make their case.

Elliott says: "It ultimately reduces all moral imperatives to “because God said so.” To turn Rick’s words around on him, that seems like pretty thin intellectual gruel to me." I say: Ah no, its actually the thickest of gruel because it is based in ultimate things. But here Elliott echoes the arguments of philosophers like Rawls and Rorty who say religion is a "conversation-stopper" because it is inaccessible to those who do not share its presuppositions. But this is, as the eggheads say, an epistemologically controversial position.

There are at least two responses. First, all reasoning begins with something that it is a first-order principle, i.e., a starting assumption. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was no friend of religion, called them his "can't- help- its." He thought they were completely arbitrary. He was wrong, but the point is that you generally have to find some starting points. Second, it is not at all clear that all religious reasoning starts from some principle that can only be accepted on faith. A lot of people have come to argue that we can, in fact, determine whether propositions based on faith correlate strongly or weakly with what our experience tells us.

Flock, yeah!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mundy on Moral Values

I have been meaning to blog on the recent piece by my fellow MJS community columnist Dean Mundy, known to the blogosphere as the The Thoughtful Conservative. Dean argues that there is a need for greater public discussion of moral values. He suggests that no set of ethical rules and laws will work until those subject to them internalize the values that they represent.

The column intrigues me because I have been discussing the proper role of religion in public life with my students in Law and Theology. There are many philosophers and legal scholars who argue that we ought to have to have a religion-free public square, i.e., that tolerance and the supposed "separation of church and state" require that religion be kept private.

Although Dean quite properly observes that moral values need not be explicitly based upon a religious foundation, I am skeptical that any public discussion of moral values can - or should - proceed without a conversation about the religious premises that - for so many of us - inform those values.

This is true for at least two reasons. First, to have a public conversation about values which allows us to base them on everything except religious foundations is not neutral between religion and irreligion. It "establishes" secularism.

Second, a conversation about values that excludes talk about ultimate things is pretty thin gruel. It winds up being exactly the kind of thing Dean complains of, i.e., a conversation where the ultimate value is tolerance and "treating everyone the same." But that doesn't get us very far in addressing the interesting moral questions. Is it ok for a CEO to earn umpty-million times the lowest paid worker because, in doing so, he has followed all the rules and those rules apply equally to everyone? Is each person free to do whatever he or she wants in his or her "private life" no matter no much social disarray it might cause?

Having said all of this, it is time for me to go to church.

School Choice Benz

Expanding on an allusion in my last MJS column, I recall that President Reagan was bitterly criticized by referring for "welfare queens" driving welfare Cadillac." This was, his critics, said unfair. There might certainly be welfare cheats but they are not characteristic of the whole program. There were, moreover, procedures in place to catch cheaters.

Might not Governor Doyle have had his own "welfare Cadillac" moment in suggesting that the school choice program is somehow characterized by the now-convicted principal of the now closed "Mandella [sic]School of Math & Science" who used taxpayer money to buy him a Mercedes Benz? This isn't characteristic of the choice program and the accountability measures that he wants aren't - and weren't - necessary to detect this crime. Choice schools are already required to undergo independent financial audits.

When Reagan complained of the misuse of funds by poor people, he was being racist. So I might have suggested that Doyle is playing on the bigoted notion that you just can't trust black people with tax money, but I understand that we are no longer supposed to do that. Good thing, too.

Its a shame we don't care

I was a bit under the weather yesterday (where does that expression come from?), and did not blog. Jessica McBride, however, apparently had a quiet night at home, whipping up a veritable blogstorm.

I was struck, however, by her reference to Eugene Kane (who I think can be thoughtful)and his dismissal of the bona fides of conservative approaches to urban problems. She quotes from a recent Kane column on school choice:

"He [referring to Doyle] also knows why so many Republican politicians and commentators who usually express little or no love for poor black children have decided to support school choice. It's a good way of bashing the teachers union, Gov. Jim Doyle, and sometimes African-American voters in general"

This kind of stuff disrupts my normally unflappable wa. If you want to drive conservatives to give up on issues of race and poverty, this is a great way to do it.
Keep calling us insincere. Continue to dismiss our ideas as manifestations of a racism now grown so subtle that it takes a professional to detect it. Why should we care, when all it gets us is abuse?

My answer is that we are called to care. The Gospel may not, as is so occasionally claimed, mandate the economic platform of the Green Party, but it pretty clearly tells us that we are not entitled to remain indifferent to the plight of the poor. It may not excuse anyone of personal responsibility (in fact, I think it quite clearly insists upon it), but neither does it mean that we may fail to help our brothers and sisters exercise that responsibility.

So I was heartened to read about this new market-oriented urban renewal initiative. While it alone will not address the more intractable problems of the central city, it seems to be a vital - and necessary - component of any attempt to fix what ails the inner city.

What is interesting is that the initiative is funded by the Bush administration which found funds through the efforts of Karl Rove. It has been championed locally by a group including my former partner and GOP heavyweight Jim Connelly. What a shame that none of them "really care."

Who's manufacturing the crisis?

Barbara Miner goes after the choice program in today's MJS, calling the choice controversy, a "manufactured crisis." Not impressive. First, she implies that Doyle will "lift the cap" if the Republicans will only agree to some "modest accountability" measures. She says that "[i]f and when conservatives come to their senses and agree to increased accountability for voucher schools, the manufactured crisis over the enrollment cap will fade away."

I'm not going to accuse her of lying. She might just be completely clueless. Doyle wants greater "accountability" (whether its "modest" or not is another matter), but he also wants more money for some of his pet programs and, essentially, wants to eliminate the local component of choice funding - something he knows that the out-state legislators will never support. There may be justification for a modest change in school choice funding, but the reasonable proposal has been made by Mayor Barrett, not Doyle.

And even with this poison pill, Doyle has offered only a modest cap increase. If the only issue here was accountability, an agreement would have been reached long ago.

Miner regales us with some examples of choice schools that were closed or choice school officials that were caught engaging in financial defalcations. Closed and caught; it sounds like there must be some accountability going on. (Mikel Holt elaborates on the other side of the page.) Beyond that, its not clear that the "modest" measures she supports would have much to do with many of the "horribles" that she puts on parade. Standardized testing will not prevent financial misconduct.

Miner argues that the MJS did find that 10% of choice schools seem to be really, really bad, apparently "lacking the ability, resources, knowledge or will to offer children even a mediocre education." That's a problem, although, again, it is far from clear that such schools will survive the accountability measures in place today. But I wonder what a thoroughgoing survey of MPS might show? We certainly know that whatever "ability, resources, knowledge or will" they might have, the results don't reflect much.

But, in fairness, I do agree that this is an area where some "modest" reform might be in order. Virtually all choice schools use standardized tests, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to require them to disclose the scores or to inform potential enrollees that they do not administer them. As for requiring them to use the "same" tests that the public schools use, one of the ideas of "choice" is to permit greater flexibility.

As for accreditation, I have an open mind, but suspect that this would essentially eliminate start-up schools and favor the long-existing (primarily Catholic and Lutheran) parochial schools. That might not be an altogether bad thing in that there certainly have been a few fly-by-night choice schools, but requiring every school to meet every standard set forth by an accreditation agency might unduly restrict the options available for choice students. Perhaps a reasonable compromise would require choice schools to work toward independent accreditation or to inform enrollees that they are unaccredited.

But I don't suspect that these types of compromise, even if combined with the Barrett proposal, would satisfy the teachers union and the inaptly named Rethinking Schools bunch.

Although they might be enough to allow a Governor under siege to save face.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The heart will go on

They say that the final stage of grief is acceptance and hope. Although some might think that John Kerry's call from Davos (this guy is beyond parody) for a filibuster of Judge Alito is denial, I disagree. The left understands that it cannot stop Alito. But calling for a filibuster will fortify, fire up and fleece the base. This is not the final round in the Alito fight, but the beginning of the Battle of Stevens (who I hope retires into a long and happy twilight). I wish ill on no one, but the odds are that there will be another vacancy before W. leaves office and that will be the money appointment. As it turns out, that seat may be the potential vote on rolling back much of the worst (or, if you are Russ Feingold, the best) that the Court has done over the past generation. When that battle begins (and it will), "borking" will look like a quaint old game of badminton played in knickers.

Looking at that battle, this fall's Senate's races are critical. As for us, I guess we just love Herb Kohl, but putting aside the Bucks and the nice arena in Madison, I can't see why.

Doyle to Advance State Trade

Gov. Jim Doyle (pictured here) announced that he will immediately undertake a trade mission to nations lacking basic diplomatic ties to the United States. In a statement released last night, the Governor said that it was important to open lines of communication with nations that do not yet have strong ties to the US or to Wisconsin. "By traveling to these nations, all of whom lack the most basic bilateral agreements with the US, such as, for example, extradition treaties, we hope to promote new avenues of international commerce and understanding." The Governor's office declined to release his itinerary.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Let the blogs out

The always interesting John McAdams outs the coming MJS story on regulating bloggers.

Careful readers of this blog may have discerned that restricting speech in the guise of campaign finance "reform" drives me to rend my garments. Treating blogs as a campaign contribution is pretty much tantamount to unadulterated suppression of pure speech. Blogging is more or less free. To place a value on it you'd either have to amortize the cost of a blogger's computer, electricity, internet connection (back to dial-up?), etc. Alternatively, you'd have to calculate the market value of something that no one really pays for.

Clearly, if you have a lot of bloggers (particularly those with traffic) who are supporting your candidacy, that will help you. Just like it will help you if you have a lot of people displaying your bumper stickers or yard signs. I am not a political professional, but I did major in political science and my general impression is that, in politics, it is better to have lots of support than a little.

The internet has created an electronic town square and has provided a forum for clever and not so clever) people who no one, in the past, would have ever heard to be heard - by, at the very least, his or her fellow political junkies and policy nerds. Sometimes bloggers do wonderful things; sometimes they behave in less admirable ways. That's free speech.

If restricting speech in the blogoshere is not unconstitutional, then I can see no bar to restricting every other form of communication that might influence an election.

If that doesn't scare you, then you must be Russ Feingold.

Aside: Incidentally, if you are of a certain age (or even if you are not), check out Prof. McAdams' web page on the Kennedy assasination. The radio traffic from the Dallas police department is fascinating. Kept me up to 2 in the morning one night.

Shark and Shepherd on Dead Tree

My latest column is in tomorrow morning's MJS. It's on the Governor's exciting new Affordability Agenda.

Shark and Shepherd on the Air

I'll be on Eric Von's "Backstory" segment tonight,(WMCS-1290; 4:30 pm - 6:00), a sort of "news in review" segment. I've been doing it for a few months and enjoy it. Having shamelessly promoted myself, graciousness requires I give a plug for Eric who I both like and respect (and not just because he lets me bloviate on his air). While I disagree with Eric on a lot of things (for all I know, he thinks I'm a crazy wing nut), he runs a very good show. It has its own slant, but Eric will invite just about anyone to come on the air (Shark may be exhibit A for that proposition) and treat them professionally. His show focuses on issues and perspectives that are particularly attractive within the African American community (all stations must honor their demographic), but it doesn't hurt for conservatives like me to listen to and engage that. If you driving around during drive time, tune in every once in a while.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Come on ! The paper said its not pay for play !

As I suggested this morning, Doyle's supporters are picking up on the MJS statement that the indictment of Georgia Thompson "does not allege" pay for play. No, only that a civil servant improperly gamed the system to award a contract to a campaign donor in order to "politically advantage her superiors" (who are, at the very least, Doyle political appointees)and to curry their favor. Shortly thereafter the donor coughs up more money.
No pay for play. She just did it on spec, letting Adelman play in the hope that it would pay and that her bosses would be happy.

Corey Liebman inadvertently demonstrates how unlikely that is when he says "it would be very difficult to accept that a Republican hire [meaning Thompson who, more accurately, is a civil servant hired while McCallum was Governor] was at the center of a grand Democratic plot." Precisely. So what you'd wonder is whether any higher ups (who are politicos)instigated the scheme. Maybe not, but it'd be criminal not to invesigate.

An aside: I agree that Thompson is innocent until proven guilty. Just like Scooter Libby and Tom DeLay.

Does the Mayor have a good idea?

It seems to me that Mayor Barret's proposed compromise on funding an expanded MPCP might makes a limited amount of sense, but also helps us see why Doyle's proposal is a poison pill. Barrett seems to be saying choice is unfair to Milwaukee because the state pays 79% of the cost of educating a kid at MPS and only 55% in the MPCP. Even though the cost of educating kids in choice schools is less than it is at MPS, the percentage difference means that every kid who transfers out costs the district money. Thus approximately $1800 of the cost of educating MPS kids comes from the local property tax and $ 2800 of the cost of educating a choice kid is funded by city taxpayers.

He suggests that the city retain an additional $ 1000 student per choice kid so that it is "held harmless" from choice transfers. Doyle's proposal (putting aside the extra SAGE funding) would let MPS count choice kids as a .45 FTE for equalization purposes. Just what this would yield would require a complicated calculation but, with equalization aid to MPS averaging $ 6500/student, it seems likely that it'd be more than the $ 1000/kid that MPS loses under the current formula. Doyle seems to be saying that the state fund something pretty close to 100% of the MPCP and he knows tht out-of-state legislators aren't going to go for that. And they probably shouldn't.

So why not adopt Barrett's proposal? Assuming his numbers are right, maybe we should. But, then again, it is not self evident that MPS should be held harmless for choice transfers. Part of the idea behind the MPCP is that it supposed to spur a failing MPS to improve. Unless the district feels the sting of losing kids, how is this supposed to happen? Maybe losing the equalization aid for the choice kids is enough (it might be if the loss exceeds the marginal cost of educating them), but, then again, maybe there is method in what Barrett thinks is the 55/45 madness.

Xoff Law

As a lawyer, Xoff is a pretty good political consultant. First, he claims that TMJ was violating the law by editorializing "a lot" about school choice. This claim is just wrong. Now he says that the Doyle administration would be legally prohibited from releasing information on who was subpoenaed to appear before the Travelgate grand jury.

Bill. Please. Leave the legal stuff to the professionals.

Grand jury secrecy is governed by Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. It imposes secrecy on grand jurors, government attorneys, stenographers, etc. None of these folks can identify who appeared before the grand jury and what happened while they were there. But the rule expressly provides that no obligation of secrecy can be imposed on any person other than as set forth in the rule itself. As the website that Xoff relied on correctly explains, it does not apply to witnesses. It does not apply to people outside the process. So, the Journal Sentinel was perfectly free to identify a Travelgate grand jury witness in this morning's paper. If the Doyle administration knows which of its folks have testified (and it does), it wouldn't violate the grand jury secrecy rules by identifying them.

At least it wasn't pay for play or anything like that !

(Please note correction below.)

Here's a potential Dem spin on the Thompson indictment. When I took the morning paper out of my dog's mouth this morning (he's got to do something to earn his keep),I was surprised to read that "the indictment, however, does not allege a pay-to-play scheme in which the contract was awarded in exchange for the money."

My initial reaction to this was - the hell it doesn't. The indictment alleges that she intended to "cause political advantage for her supervisors" and that her actions "helped and were intended to help her job security." It doesn't take a weatherman to know which way that wind is blowing. Sounds like we're talking pay for play to me.

But once I had my wife's coffee started, I could see where they are going (or where whoever is spinning them is going). I suppose it is right that there is no allegation that Adelman was told that it would get favorable treatment for contributions or that the politicos in the Doyle administration wanted her to prefer a contributor. It could be that she just thought helping out a good Democrat travel agency would be a real nice Christmas (Holiday?) present for her bosses and acted alone. For all we know, the boys upstairs were shocked ... shocked that she would do such a thing.

So I can see the Dem spin, knowing assertions that, despite what those ignorant Republicans and right wing sqauwkers and bloggers think, this is not a pay for play case, as if "pay for play" has some technical legal definition as opposed to being slang for a variety of public misconduct involving favoritism toward one's donors.

Here's the problem and the second potential line of Dem spin plays right into it.
It is absolutely true that Thompson was not one of Doyle's top aides (and Republicans might want to stop calling her that.) As such, and as the indictment implies, it is extremely unlikely that Thompson, who was a civil servant and not a political appointee, would do this on her own and almost certain that she would not be the one delivering a request for pay to those who wanted to play. As Jessica McBride points out, people only flip up. It seems pretty clear that Biskupic thinks that there are bigger fish in this lake. We'll see if he's right.

Correction: This post was was originally incorrect in that it said the Journal Sentinel story did not report the indictment's allegations that the Thompson sought to politically advantage her supervisors and to bolster her job security. It did and it would now be snarky for me to claim it was buried. Hat tip to Gary Krentz of the MJS who pointed out my error with grace and good humor. I was too bleary-eyed this morning to pick it out of the on-line version. Teach me to blog at six in the morning. My bad.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gov. Doyle May Want to Stay in Iraq

This can't be good news. There is no way that an indictment combining the terms "fraud," "procurement" and "political considerations" in connection with his administration is not a real kick in the solar plexus.

From Russ' lips to God's ear

Much of Feingold's statement opposing Alito seems given over to his frustration with Altio's lawyerly qualifications of the words that Senators wanted to put into his mouth and with his refusal to say how he would rule in cases that could conceivably some before him. But here's the money graph:

With respect to reproductive rights, Judge Alito said that he would look at any case with an “open mind.” That promise, however, is not reassuring given his prior denunciations of Roe, his legal work to undermine Roe, and his failure to disavow the strong legal views he had expressed in the 1980s when given the opportunity at his hearing. In his 1985 Justice Department job application, Judge Alito wrote that he believed that the Constitution does not protect a right to abortion, and, as an Assistant to the Solicitor General, he wrote a memo advocating a strategy for the Reagan Administration to chip away at Roe v. Wade, with the ultimate goal of overturning that decision. Since he refused to say that he changed his mind, despite numerous chances, one can only think that he still believes what he said in 1985. And his opinions as a Third Circuit judge raise a legitimate concern that he will, if given the opportunity, be inclined to narrow reproductive rights.

Oh, please, Russ. Be right. Just this once.

Dog Bites Man

Judge Altio gets through the Judiciary Committee on a straight party line vote. As K-Lo observes at The Corner , its unclear that the hearings accomplished anything other than to raise money for PFAW. Herb Kohl votes against Alito, stating "I fear that a Justice Alito will narrow our rights, limit our freedoms and overturn decades of progress ...." I fear that if one guy, unelected and appointed for life, can do that, we've let the Supreme Court arrogate far too much power to itself.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Payback is a b****

I am intrigued by the falderol over whether the Sykes-Holt "stand in the school house door" spot on school choice, now being run on stations other than TMJ by school choice advocates, illegitimately plays the race card. Driving down to class this afternoon, I heard that view from some (but not all) of Eric Von's callers and the same claim is made by liberal bloggers Jay Bullock and Bill Christofferson and, I suspect, a few others.

I suppose the argument goes like this: School choice advocates are proposing a policy that they claim will benefit African American school children. Jim Doyle opposes that policy, but it is unfair to suggest, by invoking racially charged images, that he does so because he "doesn't care" about black kids. To do so, the argument might continue, is racially inflammatory and, quite frankly, stings. In our society, being wrongfully accused of racial animus or indifference hurts. Can't we, the spot's critics might conclude, just rationally and calmly debate a policy difference?

I don't know that is a fair characterization of the spot. It certainly argues that Doyle is blocking opportunity for black kids (choice advocates believe that he is), but I'm not sure that it implies improper motive on his part. In fact, I have never heard choice proponents claim that Doyle is biased against African-Americans. Rather, they say he is in WEAC's pocket. He is not racist, he is kept. But let's put that aside. I see a bigger development here.

Rather than bicker, I want to congratulate my liberal friends on their new found civility. In 2000, the NAACP ran one of the most despicable campaign ads in history, invoking the brutal lynching of a black man in Texas and suggesting that when then Governor George W. Bush opposed hate crime legislation that had absolutely nothing to do with the crime in question, it was as if the lynching had "happened again." In 2004, a 527 group called Media Watch ran an ad on black radio stations (including, if I remember correctly, stations in Milwaukee) telling black audiences that "you are not part of" President Bush's America and that the President was sending blacks off to die in Iraq for oil. (I guess I missed the military"s "black only" recruiting policy). Don't even get me started on the shameful exploitation of Hurricane Katrina.

I am so glad that the left has grown a conscience and we won't have to put up with that kind of race baiting next time around. It is so good to know that conservatives who suggest market and culturally based solutions to problems of poverty and urban crime won't be called racist and be accused of "blaming the victim." It is gratifying to know that blacks who opt out of a politics based on grievance (for more, see here ) will no longer be called Uncle Toms or be told they are not "black enough."

That is what this means, isn't it?

Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in

OK, I may look more like Tony Soprano, but this blog has been made.

Does this mean I get a goomah?

Not, of course, that I'd want one.

Xoff Redux

The dust-up over the Sykes-Holt "spot" on school choice continues as Xoff tries to back and fill on his ill-considered suggestion that editorial comment by a radio station is regulated issue advertising.

The problem is that ... it's not. State law explicitly says that it "shall not be construed to restrict ... editorial comment. Such activities need not be reported as a contribution or disbursement." Don't take my word for it, look here.

While the FCC might be able to require "equal time" or otherwise prohibit this (assuming an old 1968 Supreme Cout decision is good law), it doesn't. So, if the Sykes "spot" is editorial comment, its not in violation of the law.

And if its not editorial comment, what is it? Xoff, who is apparently privy to the platonic ideal of "commercialness" seems to think that if it has the "look and feel of a commercial" then it is regulated.

But that's just nonsense. What difference does it make if Sykes prerecords comments and plays it frequently as opposed to taking to the airwaves and repeating himself. What does it matter if his commentary includes other voices or is set to music - or says "Reagan will rise again" when you play it backwards. It makes no difference.

Nor does the idea that Sykes called it a "spot" - slang used to refer to a paid commercial - mean anything. The unvarnished reality is that the "spot" is not the speech of a third party that is being paid for in a way that the law regulates, but, rather, it is the speech of the station itself. That makes it editorial comment and unrestricted.

Whether or not Charlie Sykes is, as you call him, a shill or whether like minded people are properly characterized as his "bucket brigade", Xoff was wrong. Whether or not Gov. Doyle has been the voice of sweet reason in offering to raise the voucher caps a bit in exchange for tons of new money, we have not yet decided to supress editorial comment by broadcast media.

The sad fact is if they give you the mike at a popular radio station, you have a louder voice than the rest of us. Which is why all this regulation of free speech in the guise of campaign finance reform is so insidious.

A step in the right direction

In a unanimous decision, handed down less than a week after argument, the Supreme Court has remanded Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC back to the Seventh Circuit.
The case, which I discussed briefly below, raises the question of whether there ought to be an exception to McCain-Feingold's prohibition of ads mentioning a candidate for federal office in a specified period before an election unless the ad is paid for with regulated campaign contributions. WRTL wanted to lobby Feingold to quit holding up Bush's judicial nominees, but had to stop on August 15 because Feingold was running for reelection. The effect of this is to give public officials who are running for re-election 90 days in which they are free of effective public criticism by grass roots lobbying organizations. This is a boon, in particular, for incumbents who generally have an advantage in raising regulated campaign contributions and who, as a consequence, are that much less likely to be criticized at precisely the time when most folks are paying attention.

The remand doesn't resolve the case but merely tells the 7th Circuit to address WRTL's claim that applying the blackout to it would be unconstitutional. (SCOTUS did this by saying its earlier opinion upholding "facial" challenges to McCain-Feingold, essentially a challenge to its language, does not preclude challenges to the way in which it is applied.) The blackout is supposed to prohibit "sham" issue ads (you know, "call Sen. Kennedy and tell him to quit leaving girls at the bottom of rivers"), but WRTL's ads weren't shams. They reflected the interests of a grass roots organization and seemed to be a constitutionally protected petition to a public official.

Let's pray the 7th Circuit gets it right.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Affordability, anyone ?

In rhapsody over Gov. Doyle's claim that concelaed carry does not " does not create a single job, help a single Wisconsin citizen afford health care or improve schools for a single Wisconsin child or develop a calorie free prime rib.". (OK, I made up the last part), liberal blogger Folkbum issues the following challenge:

" Here's a challenge to the right Cheddarsphere: Name one initiative Republicans have sent to Doyle in the last six months that does the things Doyle has challenged them to do."

This is called leading with your chin. I can't say what has or has not happened in the past six months but here's a start based in recent memory.

To create jobs How about TABOR and a budget that really held the line on spending? I hang around job-creating business types. Bulletin: Higher than average taxes do not help. Nor does the spectre of being held liable for harm done by someone else's products (a concept that Doyle, by contrast, deems worthy enough to save by a Friday veto.)

To help make affordable health care Perhaps caps on wild card awards for pain and suffering in medmal cases? Perhaps health savings accounts might help but a single Wisconsin citizen? Who knows?

To improve schools I think I have been hearing something about "lifting the caps."

There's a lot more but my high school football coach taught me that piling on is against the rules.

Something Wal-Mart this way comes

I have probably been in a Wal Mart less than five times in my life. My guess is that I have spent less than $ 15 on Wal-Mart merchandise (think I once picked up a medicine ball) - ever.

But its not that I think that Wal-Mart is an evil empire. Candor compels me to confess that I'm a bit of a snob. The prices are low, but the quality is not what I want and the ambience sucks. This does not, I am afraid, reflect well on me. I'll work on myself.

But I hardly think that Wal-Mart is evil and I'm intrigued by the way in which it has become the Richard Nixon of the '00s - widely and easily hated. The inestimable Boots and Sabers suggests that it is because Wal Mart is not unionized. Others, perhaps marking the same facts from another persoective, argue that it is because Wal Mart wages aren't all that high.

I prefer a different slant. Wal Mart associates are not highly paid, but that's long been the case in the retail sector. You don't get a lot of money for walking the aisles or manning the register at a big box store. That's true today, but it was also true when I worked at the Target on 27th & Layton in 1974. Its a low skill - high flexibility - entry level job. While people pick and choose statistics to either demonize or canonize,Wal Mart, it is seemos that it does not pay appreciably more or less than comparable employers for comparable positions.

What it does do is offer merchandise of acceptable quality at remarkably low prices. In that, it has probably done more to make life "affordable" than Gov. Doyle will so much as shake a pair of die at. And that, I think, is what drives liberals crazy. By its own efficiency and by, quite frankly, beating up on its suppliers. , Wal Mart has saved the working poor more money than a boatload of liberal nostrums could ever.

Although its profit margins are not all that exceptional, Wal Mart, in successfully serving the lower income consumer, has made its shareholders a boatload of money. Could it be that they have done good and done well?

Let's Blame the Lawyers

Jessica McBride expresses concern over a report by Spivak and Bice that Judge Patricia McMahon awarded a bit over $ 87,000 in sanctions against local attorney James Donohoo.

I was made aware of this a few days ago by a public interest law organization with which I am affiliated, but was reluctant to blog it.

Here's why I can't jump to Donohoo's defense. Judges do have the right to award sanctions against lawyers who bring a claim that a reasonable lawyer ought to know is frivolous. If, for example, Joe Smith would ask me to bring a law suit against the guy who ran off with Mrs. Smith for alienation of affection, I should decline. Wisconsin law does not permit that claim. Judges rarely impose sanctions for frivolous claims (in my humble opinion, they should do it much more often), but the authority to do so is there.

In this case, Donohoo brought a suit against a gay rights organization for defaming a minister by claiming that he advocated the murder of gays and lesbians. The preacher had apparently called for the movement opposing more rights for gays and lesbians to "take to the streets" and then had apparently joked about shooting homosexuals. Not exactly the Christian Gospel that I hear proclaimed on Sunday, but that's not the point.

The problem for Donohoo is that truth is a defense in a defamation action and, if our gay-smiting cleric had made himself a public figure by injecting himself into the public debate (which is almost certainly the case), even a misinterpretation of his remarks would have to have been done with malice. In short, the case was a stone loser and, unless the facts have been inaccurately reported, Donohoo should have told his client not to pursue it.

But here's why I can't defend Judge McMahon (who, while quite liberal, is generally fair). I have been around the legal block more times than I care to admit and I know that it is very rare for judges to sanction lawyers even for claims that 90% of us would recognize as clearly frivolous. Imagine that Michael McGee, Sr. had sued someone for defamation because they had characterized his antics of a few years back (remember when he became "the Commander") as calling for the murder of white people at Buck's games (or for the torching of a beauty supply stores owned by Koreans). Would his lawyer have met the same fate?

I can't say that Judge McMahon set the bar too high for Donohoo, but I fear she did set it higher than it is generally set.

While that, in and of itself, may not be the occasion for sympathy, I do worry about the possibility that more exacting scrutiny of lawyers who represent unpopular (even loathsome) clients will send the chilling message that Jessica fears. My guess is that this could have a potentially devastating impact on Donohoo and his family. The distinction between what is frivolous and what is aggressive is not always clear and I'd hate to send a message that the way in which that line is going to be drawn may depend on what judges think of the client.

Friday, January 20, 2006

If it's Friday, this must be my veto pen

I don't know how many Friday vetoes we've had from Governor Doyle, but this idea of always vetoing popular legislation when the news is going to get buried over the weekend has become a little heavy handed. Governor: We understand that you don't think that this stuff can bear public scrutiny. But to paraphase a rather prominent pundit, you ought to proclaim in the light what you have heard in the dark. (Matt: 10:27) If you think you are doing the right thing, try it on a Monday.

In putting the kibosh on concealed carry, Doyle helpfully explained that it " does not create a single job, help a single Wisconsin citizen afford health care or improve schools for a single Wisconsin child ...." This is, of course, a bit of a non sequitur, sort of like saying I shouldn't paint my house because it won't fix my car's transmission. Actually, it's worse because concealed carry doesn't even take away revenue that could be devoted to whatever Doyle thinks it should be devoted to.

Concealed carry is not my issue, but the evidence seems to clearly indicate that it does not increase crime and suggests, perhaps not as clearly, that it will reduce it.
If the latter is true, concealed carry may well do everything that the Governor says it will not. If it reduces violent crime, it may well make it possible for businesses to invest in areas that are now no-go zones. If a small child's mother avoids becoming the victim of street violence, she may well continue to work and provide health care for her family. If the Governor is under the impression that education thrives in areas where street gangs rule the streets and are, therefore, the authority figures that kids are going to strive to emulate, then he's been spending way too much time shaking down Indian tribes.

McCann Surrenders !

After devoting seven days of trial and God knows how much taxpayer money to bringing charges against the Milwaukee 5, the DA's office punts in the red zone by cutting a deal with four of them.

Speaking as a guy who has practiced law for almost 25 years, I can't imagine any self-respecting lawyer doing this. If you wanted to let these guys cop to a misdemeanor and walk away, I am sure that deal could have been made without going to the time and expense of a trial. To do it because you get a note that the jury thinks its deadlocked after six hours is silly. Judge Brennan was absolutely correct in observing that six hours is not a long time to deliberate after a seven day trial and undeniably right in telling them to continue. It really is hard to avoid at least the suspicion that the DA's office saw this as an opportunity to bail on what it saw as a no-win situation. I don't see how it is a reasonable compromise by a prosecutor who wants a conviction. Why, after devoting just about all the resources that you are going to have to devote, would you, essentially, let the defendants go at the first small sign that you might not win?

That the remaining defendant was found not guilty doesn't really change anything. Even if that suggests the others would have been acquited (and there's no reason to assume that), the deal they made within the other four didn't get anything.

Durbin to oppose Alito !

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)(pictured here) announced that he would vote against Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito because, in Sen. Durbin's view, Alito lacks "a heart."

(Tip of the hat for Durbin's remarks to Brian at Anno Domini. The cheap shot is mine.)

Doyle Lifts the Cap !

Oops, wrong one. The legislature failed to override his veto on caps for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. New caps were required because the Supreme Court struck down the old ones in Ferdon v. Wisconsin Patient Compensation Fund. What is offputting about all this is the bickering about what cap level is "just right" to satisfy the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Its a bit of legalistic inside baseball, but Ferdon was an extraordinary decison, far more starting than the "lead paint" case. Normally, courts defer to legislative judgments on what makes good policy unless the legislation touches on a "suspect" category like race or one of a relatively few fundamental rights. Otherwise, they apply an analysis called "rational basis scrutiny" which traditionally means the legislature can do what it wants unless its irrational. In Ferdon, the Court said it was following the normal rules, but, in fact, it aggressively second guessed the legislature's judgment. It seemed to think that there needed to be some relatively precise relationship between the cap and the pain and suffering likely to be involved in med mal cases while the legislature may have based the cap on the notion that compensating people in dollars for pain and suffering is inherently subjective and susceptible to emptional reactions such that the jury's ability to award them is best limited. My fear is that Ferdon will become a milestone in judicial activism in Wisconsin.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sykes & TMJ about to do the perp walk? Not hardly.

Xoff suggests that Journal Communications is breaking campaign laws by running a tape produced by Charlie Sykes' criticizing Gov. Doyle's refusal to lift the caps on school choice. This seems clearly wrong. State campaign finance law specifically provides, as it must, that it shall not be construed to restrict editiorial comment or endorsement by communications medium. See, e.g., Wis. Stats. sec 11.30(4)

The fact that TMJ put its editorial comment in a specially produced segment that it repeats from time to time would hardly seem to matter. If Xoff were right, the limitations on free speech applicable to those outside the media (which are bad enough) would be applied to the press - which is almost always owned by an incorporated entity. If that doesn't violate the first amendment, then we've lost this country.

Xoff suggests that its not free speech because someone is paying for it, but the "free" in "free speech" means unrestricted, not free of charge. When the media editiorializes or endorses, there are always expenses that some is paying for. He argues that, if it were free speech, they'd give Doyle equal time to respond, but the Supreme Court long ago struck down a requirement that newspapers give candidates equal time to respond to critical editorials. Free speech is unregulated speech.

Update: Of course, in fairness to Xoff, radio stations are a bit different because of the limited nature of the broadcast spectrum. He alludes to that and I didn't mean to suggest that its not relevant. The Supreme Court once upheld the old fairness doctrine which imposed "equal time" requirements (although I wonder how its thinking would be affected by the rise of the new forms of media), but the fairness doctrine no longer exists and I just can't see using the campaign finance laws to silence journalists. The Supreme Court's 2003 decision in McConnell upholding the McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection Act did contain some language suggesting that a majority of the court thinks that the first amendment would prevent restrictions on contributions to talk show hosts or newspapers editors on the grounds that their speech benefits one candidate over another. Hope so.

Update 2 The notion, though, that one side of a political debate would use campaign finance laws to stifle discussion of an issue underscores the critical importance of the case brought by Wisconsin Right to Life which was argued in the Court this week. The FEC argues that the McCain-Feingold Speech Suppression Act prohibits grassroots organizations from running ads that call on people to influence public officials who are candidates for election within a certain period of time prior to the election. WRTL is contending that the first amendment requires an exception for legitimate lobbying ads (i.e., ads that relate to real issues on which the officials are acting or failing to act). In WRTL's case, it wanted to run ads criticizing Feingold and Dems for holding up Bush's judicial appointments - something that was happening at the very time in question. The idea that people who hold public office get a "free" period in which they cannot be effectively criticized seems to me to be at odds with core first amendment values. Hope the Court agrees and thanks to WRTL for pressing the issue.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Make a joyful noise unto heaven !

The Milwaukee Panthers came back from a 10 point deficit on the road with under four minutes to play to edge Detroit, 72-71. This makes me almost as happy as I will be when Sam Alito is confirmed.

We will bear most prices, assume some burdens and oppose a few foes to help you out a little

We've had the New Frontier, the Great Society, Morning in America, the Contract with America and the Ownership Society. Now we have ... the "affordability agenda ?" Putting aside the fact that it's hopelessly vague ("affordable" for whom?) and seems largely concerned with spending more money (and is, therefore, "unaffordable" for the taxpayer), isn't it just lame ? Think of the great political slogans: "Give me liberty or give me death !" "Do not crucify mankind on a cross of Gold !" What is Doyle saying ? " Five per cent off 'til November!" It strikes me as about as exciting as "Sensible shoes for our time."

I guess he's saying that, since you obviously can't make it on your own, we'll help you out. Somewhat. I'd sure run through walls for that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Keep Hope Alive !

For us guys teetering on the edge of 50, this has got to be the best new trend since they announced red wine was good for your health.

Get this guy a golden ticket !

Although he's apologized, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin channelled Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in suggesting that God sent Katrina upon New Orleans in order to smite it in retaliation for Iraq and violence in the black community. Yea, and, verily, He bound the hands and feets of his servant Ray to prevent him from doing a frigging thing to help those he was sworn to protect.

What is just as interesting is that he chose King Day to argue for a Willie Wonka New Orleans. I guess I missed the speech where Dr. King dreamed of a day in which all of God's children would live in "chocolate" or "vanilla" cities.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Arrogant Jock ?

I am glad that I am not the only one who is annoyed by the Peyton Manning commercials for Mastercard. John Miller, writing in The Corner regards them in much the way that I do:

"The ads with Peyton Manning, who won't be appearing in this year's
Superbowl, are funny, as he acts like a crazed fan cheering on
everyday people as they perform ordinary jobs. The one where he
asks the grocery store stockboy to sign a loaf of bread for his
little brother is especially funny. But these commercials also leave
a bad taste in my mouth. They show a football superstar mocking the
enthusiams of his fans, and suggest that grocery store stockboys are
less worthy of applause than sports jocks. There's something
fundamentally arrogant about this."

Admit it. It reminds you of the captain of your high school football team. You secretly hated the guy then and were thrilled when you heard he grew up to drive truck.

They Still Don't Get It

Last month, I wrote in my Journal Sentinel column about UW-Eau Claire's policy of banning RAs from leading bible studies in their dorm rooms. In response to a law suit challenging the ban, the UW formed a Resident Assistant Working Group to review the issue and make recommendations. The Group has now issued its report. The group decided against recommending a system-wide policy but it suggested some guidelines that sound a bit ominous. The report suggests that RAs be required to "create an open, inclusive, and supportive residential community" and that they not "use their position to inappropriately influence, pressure, or coerce student residents."

The words sound good but remember that they are going to be applied at institutions that regard a lot of leftist indoctrination (see, e.g., the Tunnel of Oppression) as open-minded, educational opportunities to which no reasonable person could object and bible studies as vaguely cultic. That's why UW-EC got sued in the first place.

I got debts no honest man can pay

Or a strategy no honest Senator can follow. The Democrats post-mortem on the Alito hearings as reported in yesterday's New York Times is wonderfully delicious schadenfreude. It's not only because Teddy "Splash" Kennedy and his crew crashed and burned so spectacularly. Even better, they still don't understand why. Do the Dems really think, as they say, that the problem is that the issues are "too complex" for the public to understand or that they would have "won the day" if Mrs. Alito hadn't cried. As law blogger Ann Althouse points out, the crying "worked" because it seemed justified:

"We'll never hear the end of the wife's crying. It's becoming mythic.
If only that hadn't happened, we could have gotten some footing out
of Kennedy badgering him about the alumni club. But the crying
resonated because we experienced the questions as unfair and
because we too were exasperated by what we could see was political

The problem is the Dems' strategy. Rather than concede that they want justices who will decide cases in a certain way, they have tried to maintain the pretense of being concerned with "qualifications" and the conceit that they are merely opposing "ideological" judges. The idea was to paint Alito (and Owens, Brown, Pryor, et al., before him) as out of the "mainstream," i.e., not committed to maintaining a half century of activist jurispridence.

The difficulty is that, by buying into the idea that judges should be "neutral" and "nonideological", they have chosen to fight on the Republicans' turf. However popular they may be, the pantheons of liberal jurisprudence - Roe, Lawrence, Baake - are really hard to justify on neutral and nonideological grounds. Because Democrats accepted the idea that neutral and nonideological is what judges should be, all Alito had to do is explain how he is just that type of judge. He is that type of judge - and that does not bode well for the liberal agenda in the courts.

The real problem is that the Dems are trying to hang on to a judiciary that imposes policies that they cannot obtain politically. That's a tough nut to crack.

Abandoning the Saga

Local conservative bloggers love to beat up on Eugene Kane and, to a large degree, he asks for it. At times it seems that there is little that Gene won't racialize and, in a city that local activists once liked to call the "Selma of the North," indiscriminate playing of the race card is just as sinful as ignoring legitimate racial issues.

On the other hand, Kane has become more thoughtful and less predictable since he has his Bill Cosby moment. His column yesterday calling for outrage against gangster wannabes, rather than the cops, in the wake of increased inner city violence is a case in point. I thought it tracked nicely with a piece earlier in the week by one of my wife's favorite conservative commentators. To be sure, Kane is still capable of embracing awful ideas like Mike McGee's slavery disclosure ordinance. Still it seems that he has found a few other notes to play and occasionally says useful things that a white commentator would have difficulty saying.

On the other hand, Gregory Sanford's King Day column subscribes uncritically to what John McWhorter calls "the Saga", the notion that the black underclass is a product of racial discrimination and fewer low skill manufacturing jobs. The problem with the Saga, as McWhorter points out, is that it fits uneasily with the facts. While no one should doubt the continued existence of racial discrimination, it is undeniable that the level of discrimination has significantly declined (and a large black middle class created) at the same time that the pathologies of the underclass have exploded. While it is certainly harder to earn a middle class income without education or skills, there certainly seem to be economic opportunities for unskilled immigrants and billions upon billions spent on education in the inner city has apparently had little effect in imparting those skills that today's economy requires.

Something else - apart from the Saga - is going on here. The tragedy is that those who ask what that may be, are too often accused of "blaming the victim" (a code word for racism) or if (like McWhorter) those asking the questions are black, are called race traitors. Yet asking that question - and getting the answer right - is the key to ending the miseries in our inner cities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I, Judicis

Recently, John McAdams at the Marquette Warrior linked to a report that an judge in the Italian town of Viterbo had ordered a priest to prove that Jesus Christ exists or, apparently, be found guilty of "abusing the pubic credulity." I guess this is a crime in Italy. Michael Moore wouldn't last long over there.

Prof. McAdams goes on, quite properly, to point out the absurdity of such a "crime" and the possible consequences in the US of allowing courts to decide who is telling the truth on matters of public controversy.

I couldn't help but think of the recent decision by a district court judge in Pennsylvania holding that it was unconstitutional for the Dover school district to mandate that students be informed of the theory of "intelligent design." ID, most prominently advocated by biochemist Michael Behe and mathematician William Dembski essentially contends that life, even though it has evolved, was "designed" by someting unaccounted for. Random mutation and natual selection, according to ID, are not adequate to account for what is here.

The court, ruling in a case called Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, found that this unconstitutionally "establishes" religion. Given the mess that is the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence, the court could have - and, if it were to rule as it did, should have - based its decision soley on the fact that the school district was religiously motivated in adopting this policy and that, therefore, it "advances" religion. That reasoning has its own set of difficulties, but it would arguably be consistent with what a majority of the Supreme Court wants.

This judge, however, while finding that the Dover school board was "improperly" motivated, went on to decide whether ID was "science" and whether its scientific propositions (sorry but I have no other way to describe a debate over stuff like whether bacterial flagellum and the autoimmune cascade are irreducibly complex) are "true," naively thinking that it would resolve the controversy for all time. I do not know if the court got it right. I do know that it had no business deciding what can and cannot be taught based on its "truth" - no more than a predecessor of our court in Viterbo would have had the right to ban Copernicus from the class room. Yet something about black robes, whether here or in Italy, goes to the head.

Why is he "ours"?

I agree with local blogger Jessica McBride who recently posted that conservatives should condemn their Cindy Sheehans. I really agree that we should all condemn Fred ("God hates f***s") Phelps. He picketed my church (St. Paul's in Milwaukee)a bit over a year ago and we are talking some very serious sociopathy. This is the guy whose website (you'll get no link from me) contains a picture of Matthew Shepherd, a gay man murdered in Wyoming as a result of, depending on who you believe, drugs or homophobia, burning in hell. I must confess that I am not always sure "What Jesus Would Do," but I am rock bottom certain that He wouldn't post that picture on His website. As I stood outside St. Paul's listening to this guy and his "followers" (about all of whom are his immediate family), I imagined his surprise when he crosses the River Styx and Shepherd is not there. I gernerally regard diagnoses of "homosexual panic" as Woolworth's psychology, but it can't be ruled out here.

But why is Phelps a "conservative" sociopath? I don't blame Jessica for assuming that he is (she was on the way to a different point), but I not so ready to acknowledge this. I suppose that Phelps probably opposes, as many conservatives do, gay marriage . I mean, I haven't heard him say so, but if he wants to burn 'em at the stake, I don't suppose that they get to walk down the aisle first.

Opposing same sex marriage wouldn't be what makes him reprehensible. There are thoughtful people whose opposition to same sex marriage has nothing to do even with a claim that homosexuality is a sin. Some of their views can be found here. The issue with Phelps is the unalloyed hated and unwillingness to tolerate(as opposed to celebrate) male homosexuality (He seems unconcerned with lesbians; see "homosexual panic" above.)

I am unaware of any mainstream - or even secondary or tertiary stream - conservatives, that spew his kind of bile against gays and lesbians. Claiming that "God hates the US" and disrupting the burial of soldiers does not sound like something in the manual of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Phelps is clearly a fevered lemur, but he "belongs" to neither the left nor right.

Bist Du ein Homophobe?

Something about the my countrymen (at least on my Dad's side) in Germany loves conformity. The German state of Baden-W├╝rttenberg is requiring applicants for citizenship to exhibit their "loyalty to German values," by passing a test designed to, among other things, root out intolerance toward homosexuality. I guess you can no longer be a good German if you don't give Brokeback Mountain at least three stars.

That's an improvement, but I fear that they still don't get it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

It's the Culture, Stupid !

Warning: This is nerdy "compassionate conservative" stuff.

Former UWM prof Walter Farrell had an interesting column in the Journal Sentinel on Sunday.

He almost said something.

He acknowledges that we have spent millions on urban poverty in Milwaukee with little effect and recognizes the existence of an intractable underclass in which neither parents or their children are in a position to benefit from the usual roundup of policies (read: welfare, make work jobs and midnight basketball). Kids having kids begets more of the same with generations who are uneducated, unskilled and largely lacking in the attitudes and attributes that it takes to get over in today's world. He understands that these hard-core poor are in no position to take advantage of the family supporting jobs that the government is supposed to "create." He even seems to concede that we can't resurrect the inner city until we address the violence, calling for a greater police presence in the inner city.

But it seemed to me that, having moved the ball pretty near the red zone, he punts - ending with a bunch of jargon that might have come from the type of contentless educational administration classes that I guess he used to teach. We must facilitate, collaborate and be flexible. But to do what?

A new book by black scholar John McWhorter, Winning the Race:Beyond the Crisis in Black America argues that the key to combatting underclass poverty is to ... change the underclass. He makes a pretty effective case that a large part of the problem is a culture enmeshed in what he calls "therapuetic alienation" - a sort of wholesale rejection of middle class values that has been festering since the 1960s. He argues that this is not intrinsic to either poor folk or black people and is not a necessary by-product of discrimination. Blacks were poorer and discrimination was worse before the 1960s and yet we didn't see nearly as much urban disarray - fatherless kids, random violence, etc.

If McWhorter is right then any kind of policy that would address urban poverty has to be evaluated in light of whether it can help change this culture. I haven't finished the book and I'm not convinced he's entirely right, but he may be on to something.