Lesson learned

In a fit on non-thinking, I agreed to go with a couple other people to represent the College Republican viewpoint in a "Panel Discussion" on the Iraq war. It was the three of us, two "moderates" who represented the "the war was wrong, but we have to stay there now" cause, and three people from various leftist groups - Stop the War!, the Greens, and the Socialists, if I remember correctly.

Is it bad when, 15 minutes into a discussion, your team decides it really needs a drink? Is it bad when, 20 minutes into the discussion, your team decides it would really like to punch everyone else in the room in the teeth? Because that's mostly what happened.

The moderator was great - he was very balanced. There wasn't anyone who could vaguely be described as a "centrist" in the audience. And the "moderates" were really not. Some choice bits:

According to the moderates:
--Rwanda was an opportunity missed by America, not the U.N., to do good and promote our values.
--Also, we have left Iraq in worse shape both politically and in terms of infrastructure.
--Iraqis like American troops because they're at our mercy, not because we're doing good things for them.

--They don't want to be seen as too patriotic [don't worry - you won't - ed.]
--Indonesia and Nigeria should be seen as examples of "par to sub-par democracies".

According to the leftists:
--Current violent strife between the Sunnis and the Shias was created and instigated by the US.
--We can't know what would happen if the US pulled out of Iraq right now, according to the leftists.

--[standard garbage about the terrorists having a "right to self-defense"]

Best comment of the night? One of our team whispered, "We could have made a fun drinking game out of this!

Update: Thankfully, a couple of beers and a pile of Easter candy have set me right!

Update II: Fittingly, a guy at open mic night in the Union capped off the evening, by singing a song: "Who's got the crack? Whooooo'se got the craaaaaack!?"

A decision reached

I didn't want to touch the Schiavo battle. Definitely not here, and really not in the Beacon.

I ran a story in the Beacon. I didn't like myself for doing it, because the mess is too comlicated, touches on too many different kinds of emotions, too many political beliefs, too many religious issues, to really be discussed fairly. I hope it came out well.

The point of this is, Stephen Green just wrote the essay I wish I could have written: So, if you're planning on riding your hobbyhorse to victory, eventually you'll have to run it over Terry's corpse.


Bad Moon Risin'

Anne Althouse has been blogging the tornado we could have gotten yesterday. I noticed the same thing, but I was in the basement of the Humanities Building, the most bunkerlike structure this side of Iraq, pretty nearly.


Cool Thing

Al-Muhajaba posts a bunch of interpretations by Muslim scholars about what euthanasia is acceptable and what is not. Basically, actively killing the patient (I assume a la Dr Kevorkian) is verboten, but simply allowing the patient to die - for example, removing a feeding tube - is acceptable.

Very interesting - and worth taking a look at.


Disconnection Notice

The neo-neocon posts today on reactions she's gotten from her liberal friends when they find out her beliefs on Bush, the war, etc. For what it's worth, I've hit something similar. A good friend of mine is a big-d Democrat, and when I met him, I was much more of a centrist independent. He and I would discuss the war and Bush quite a bit, and I'd bring up a lot of blogosphere information he didn't know, but I was generally... not sympathetic, but certainly not argumentative. The more I read about things, the more conservative I became, but I didn't really realize the process until he called me essentially a party-line conservative one day. It was a few years ago now, and I really don't remember exactly what he said, but it surprised me quite a bit.

Because I still am not really a Republican. Sure I took a semester off to work for the Bush campaign. Sure I'm a member of the UW College Republicans executive board, and an editor on the conservative Mendota Beacon. But there's plenty I disagree with in Republican circles. But here's the catch - I've always felt welcome to disagree when I'm with Republicans. The religious right may be on the ascent in the Republican party today, but even at Madison, there is a lot of dialogue within the movement - libertarian Republicans may not be a majority, but they're there, and they're vocal. Today putting the paper together, for example, I don't think more than two of us agreed on any one position on the Schiavo case. And that's just one example - there are plenty more. And it's refreshing.


That's what it is!

I've been reading William Appleman Williams's The Tragedy of American Foreign Policy, and it bugged me. No, not his conclusions - I disagree vehemently, but that's a totally different topic. No, what bugged me was the poet he reminded me of. I couldn't think of the name to save my life. But, reading Protein Wisdom today, I was reminded: William Carlos Williams! That's it!

Thank you, Internet.

Computers in the classroom

Dean links to a story showing that books are more important than computers in children's scholastic performance. He argues that this should be obvious - computers are just tools, appliances, and so of course they don't really help kids learn.
This in no way surprises me. I've been working with computers for nearly 25 years, and my first job was working on various computer programs in suburban Chicago schools. From the very beginning, until today, I have always been annoyed by the constant political push to "put more computers in the classroom." Indeed, sometimes people make a big deal out of how in some poor schools, "there is only one computer for every 10 pupils!" (or some other such supposedly scandalous ratio). What I keep asking is, "What good do the computers actually do for the students? What are they being used for?"
In most cases, while there is some good educational software, it's long been apparent to me that there's very little that a computer can do in a classroom that can't be done with good old fashioned books, pencils, paper, and chalk/whiteboards.

Well, yes and no. He's right on a basic level - computers are appliances. Books, ultimately, will help kids learn to read. Kids aren't likely to read, say the news (or blogs!) But on a larger level, kids who are familiar with computers are the ones who will be prepared to use them in the future. When it comes down to it, computers are a big part of the new economy. I didn't get familiar with computers as a kid - my family was late in getting one - and I'm definitely not a tech-savvy person. I wish I was. The kids in my class who got computers early, and learned to play with them, are the ones who are most comfortable with them today. Moreover, I'd be willing to bet that the kids who like to play with computers - and computer programming - are likely to develop better math skills than kids who don't.

Kids need to be prepared for the future, and computers are it. Having lots of computers in the classroom is one step. It will never replace good math and science teachers, but it is a step.

That said, one of Dean's commenters points out that teachers today seem to see computers and technology as a "magic wand" - if I have a kid do research on the computer instead of in books, it will be better!. This focus needs to stop.

Bad situation

Who do you root for in a battle between Maoists and a monarchy? And here, the monarchy is every bit as nasty as the rebels. Radio Free Nepal and United We Blog! are blogs by journalists in Nepal (hat tip Althouse).


There is no escape

That's the line being taken by the Sydney International Grammar School on iPods. They worry that kids listening to tunes may experience "social isolation or escape from our community.”

Two things: 1.)this is creepy. Dictatorship-creepy. 2.)Music works two ways - for the kids who don't like the other kids, it's a great escape. Nothing like rockin' some Nirvana while you scowl at the "cool kids". Or - community building via shared interest in music.

Now, however, the school has created an automatic secret society: I give it two days before the "Movement to Liberate Music" rebels seize a classroom.


The future is now

Ahh, glorious spring break. Exams done for a while, and no work for a week. Glorious.

So, what's up, you ask. Well. I've seen the future, and it is good. To whit: I had a vision of how Iraq will be taught 50 years from now. Yes, that's triumphalist. I'm confident, though.

The vision came in my History of American Foreign Relations. "A glimpse of the future in a history class? Wha?" But it's true! The topic was post-WWII Japan, and our professor began by saying that nobody could possibly have thought it would have gone as well as it did. Japan, after all, was culturally different than the US! It had never seen democracy before! The populace hadn't given up yet - the surrender came from the Emperor and was forced on the people!

The professor started with the positives, which were generally obvious. But he noted that they were at odds with Japanese culture - women had never been men's equals, and yet here was MacArthur forcing equality and even voting rights for women. Culture was likewise changed - Japan became one of the top foreign consumers of Hollywood movies.

But there were problems - we censored communist voices (even though, according to the same lecture, the socialist and communist parties were on the rise at the time) and allowed the zaibatsu ("big corporation") ethic to continue.

So, what does this have to do with Iraq? We're there uninvited. The cultural differences are vast, and we aren't paying proper obeisance to Arab Muslim culture. We're crowding out the voices of Muslim extremists/terrorists. Nobody could have predicted it would turn out as well as it's going. Or so the critics say.

So when the prof asked rhetorically how many of us could have predicted that the Japan occupation would have gone as well as it did, I smiled to myself and thought, "probably the same number that thought the Iraq occupation would turn out well."



Light blogging for a while - this week is rough with exams. But then comes spring break - forget the beaches, I'll be blogging!

Speaking of freedom

Let's take a moment to remember Hungary's 1848 Revolution. Hungarian patriots rose up on this day to demand freedom, and put their lives on the line to get it. The poorly-trained revolutionaries fought the Austrian army essentially to a standstill, and were only defeated when the Austrians called the Tsarist Russians in to help put down the rebellion.

Also, national poet Petőfi Sándor (given name, then family name, as Hungarians do) wrote some truly beautiful poetry. Here is his entire catalogue in Hungarian. Here are some in English and Hungarian.



That's Sly Sylvester. He's done it before, and he does it again, this time implying that Ald. Robbie Webber should be raped. So it's a good thing he's going to donate $100 to the Rape Crisis Center. Really, it is good to know that liberals can get away with whatever they want in this town.

Who will he attack next? He's already hit Condi Rice and Colin Powell, so he's got the Black community pretty well covered. Maybe a Hispanic or Asian leader that doesn't toe the line? So many people, so little tolerance... good thing he isn't an evil Republican, or he might cause an uproar!
Class blogging

Or, rather, blogging because I don't want to pay attention in class. We're talking about the "race to the bottom" theory of globalization. It's being led by leftists, and listened to by leftists. Frankly, I've heard the arguments more in-depth in other, more balanced, classes, and am not impressed.

I see in my comments that Owen at Boots and Sabers was also at the Future Wisconsin Conference. I wish I'd have known! He has some interesting stuff in the post I've linked. I'd just like to note that the Mendota Beacon broke the Gudrum story last night, about 20 minutes after he mentioned that he wasn't going to run. Hooray for my paper! Generally, the conference was very interesting. I'll post some concluding thoughts here in a little while.


You got scooped

The intrepid Mendota Beacon has scooped every other news source - take that, MSM!
Blogging the Future Wisconsin Conference, pt 7
Presidential Politics

Daniel Schnur is last up before coctail hour. He came in from California, but hails from Wisconsin originally.

He starts with a few Governator jokes, and the crowd likes it. Then a few good words for us UW-College Republicans. Nice!

Schnur sees a bifold opportunity - there will be no sitting President or VP running for election. That means it's a wide-open field. There is also a large number of very talented leaders from across the spectrum in position to be able to run for the presidency. He doesn't see a good contrast with the left, except Republican hate-object extraordinaire Hillary Clinton. He's really gearing for a fight with Hillary: "What Hillary Rodham represents is the saintliest of saints. But to us, of course, she's a sinner. But go to those salvagable voters and ask them what they think of her, and get out of the way."

And just like that, he's done. He says Hillary is up in polls right now because she is more visible right now. But the conservative candidates will be just as well known after the primary season.

Somebody wants to amend the Constitution for Arnold to run - there are shouts of "no" and laughs from others in the audience. Schnur says that truly good candidates only come along rarely, and the others should be given a chance in the meantime. Somebody else likes Rick Santorum better, and Schnur says that he probably won't run in 2008. Then he criticises the way Republicans talk about values - he says it should be proved by actions, not said in words. "You can't proclaim that," he says. I worry, though, that the religious wing of the party believes the only way to win is to talk about nothing but values.

Question about the '06 Senate races, and Schnur likes Republican chances in Maryland. He says Dems have more turf to defend than Repubs.

A question on the Supreme Court - Schnur doesn't think it'll change much. Bush will replace liberals with other relative liberals, conservatives with conservatives.

One prediction he gives: the new Attorney General (Alberto Gonzales) will be the first Hispanic American Chief Justice. He talks about the Hispanic swing toward Republicans over the past few elections.

And that's the show. Now to the drinks! More after dinner...
Blogging the Future Wisconsin Conference, pt 6
Health Care Costs

The peeps: moderator Richard Blomquist; panelists Rep. Curt Gielow and Peter Farrow.

Blomquist goes first, and outlines the costs of healthcare, which are huge all around. These costs are part of the trend of losing jobs in Wisconsin, he says. Very dry. I had trouble with my Econ 101 lecture - this is not better.

Building more hospitals won't drive costs down, either. In fact, because there are more, costs will go up - because the fixed costs of technology in hospitals is so high. If you have three hospitals in an area that only bears two, things get more expensive than they should otherwise be.

Now to Curt. He talks about providers, payers, and patients. The patient is at the bottom of the formula, he says. "In health care, competition doesn't work as well in health care because supply drives demand. More supply drives... and insatiable demand."

Personal responsibility figures in, he says - consumers have to be better educated. Excercise and diet are the two big issues here. But people have to be involved in the entire process: it is wrong that the insurance company settles the bill without any input from the consumer. Curt focuses on transparency to solve these issues. He says that lobbying has produced some result with hospitals, and the threat of legislation helps push the agenda. If patients can compare prices at different hospitals, prices may get better. He also recommends health care cooperatives - they promote to each other the values of activities such as smoking that put people at the highest risk. Price per care times utilization equals total price, he says; we've done some with bringing down the price per unit, but utilization needs to come far down.

And then there was Peter. Mr Farrow is himself the head of a cooperative of health care providers, from what I understand. He will focus on four areas of improvement: first, evidence-based medicine (use most current, most effective forms of treatment). Doctors don't change their practices often, and it takes a long time for the best treatments to trickle through the system. Second, hosptils need to learn better from each other - competition doesn't force them to. Third, lower transaction costs. Generally 2-4% of our GDP is lost to these costs, he says. Finally, educate the consumer - we all need to be aware of the true costs of their health. So, he says, we need transparency, in the realm of value even more than pure cost.

Poor guys. They realize how dry this is - Peter makes a joke that "they obviously saved the best for last. Education reform is nice and all, but healthcare reform..."

Now Blomquist again. He wants to remind us that generally, physicians are wonderful, hardworking people who truly want to help. It's an important point after railing for an hour and a half about the awful costs of what they do. But he also saves some more venom for the "artificially high" cost, especially as it is borne by those who have no insurance. I like his sense of dignified, scholarly outrage.

Update: There is a question on tort reform. Curt takes it first. Wisconsin's limit currently helps to stabilize the system, he says. Also, there is a patient's comp fund, and the governor wants to use it to make up for shortfalls in the state budget this year - this is dangerous, he says. Then Peter says that although things can happen badly sometimes, but aggressively shielding doctors isn't wise either.

Badger Blog Alliance has a post on the shootings. They were very nearby, but not here.
Blogging the Future Wisconsin Conference, pt 5

The setup: moderator Bishop Sedgrick Daniels couldn't make it, so there is no moderator for this one; panelists Susan Mitchell, Representative Leah Vukmir, Dr. Howard Fuller, and Camille Soldberg.

Representative Vukmire goes first. "The teachers union fighting us at every turn" makes things tough, she says, and talks about her daughter. When she was learning to read, the program wasn't working, but teachers refused to allow their methods to be questioned. She says Wisconsin is a national model for education nationally, and that the teachers union is trying to sabotage that.

She tells us the things we need to keep: objective academic standards, options for parents, and "proven methods" - teaching phonics, not teaching "fuzzy math", etc. She'd like to use voucher programs for special education under a McCay (not sure of the spelling) program. Apparently Florida has it, and Ohio is moving towards it.

Camille Soldberg is up next. She is talking about Latino education - especially English training. I think I hear a very slight Hispanic accent in her voice - it has a very pleasant lilt to it, which makes her fun to listen to. She talks about the relationship between poverty (even though she's quick to point out that they're making better money than where they came from) and education. The second and third generations are where much of the progress is seen, which makes sense. She also talks about teaching patience and self control, and acclimating immigrants into our culture.

Now to Susan Mitchell. She's the President of the School Choice program of Wisconsin, and focuses on results in Milwaukee. She agrees that Milwaukee is a national testing ground for school programs. She says there are 4 entities that can charter schools in Milwaukee, and there are 36 charter schools there now. She likes the "vigorous marketplace".

So, the results: student achievement has increased in charter schools over the public school system. Graduation rates over the last 15 years are twice as high at half the cost. Secondly, improvement in Milwaukee Public Schools - public schools are competing for the children. Finally, the community and neighborhoods have seen an influx of "mission-driven" organizations - churches and charities - because of the inflow of money created by charter schools. There are even places where public and private schools are teaming up to create a better community.

Finally is Dr Fuller. He likens himself to the "Johnny Appleseed" of school choice. He certainly doesn't look the part - although perhaps it's just the blazer - but I like the tag. He says, "This will be the breakout year for school choice." So far more than 30 states have bills for school choice, and he's agitating in the 10 states that he thinks are the most likely to win them. Even Wisconsin is pushing for laws that would say that if a child fails to learn to read for 2 years in a row, they'll be given a voucher for private schools. Lessons? "Markets work," he says. He has a great story of a neighborhood in Milwaukee. Years ago there was a bad shooting - now, because of the voucher system, there are schools on three of the four corners, and the neighborhood is thriving.

The other lesson is that people can thrive when you give them choice. He ends up hitting on the meme of liberal racism - here, that Blacks can't perform well no matter what programs they have. It hasn't worked out that way.

Finally, he is amazed that the media continues to present this as a purely conservative idea. "The most powerful arguments in favor of school choice are matters of civil justice." Why don't liberals latch on to the idea that we are giving all students the same access to good education?

Now for questions. The first two are about creationism, and it makes me wonder how much of the debate has already been resolved by the scientific community. As one questioner pointed out, it's very difficult to even find a textbook that mentions creationism.
Blogging the Future Wisconsin Conference, pt 4
Newt is Nice

Congressman Tom Petri is up now. He's talking about Newt Gingrich, but I'm not quite sure why. It's awful when you know the speaker, and know he's done things, but you're not sure why precisely he's talking. "Think outside the box," he says.

Gingrich did it in proposing to use federal money to screen for diabetes.

Student loan programs could be made better if some politicians would think outside of the box. Certain student loans use a program that is a partnership with the private sector - but! He says that this program uses taxpayer money to guarantee that the banks will get their money back. So it's a corporate scam, he says, and President Bush is out to fix it. More thinking outside the box.

Now, what he's up to. He praises the federal ban on partial birth abortion. Tort reform is on the way too, he says. And bankruptcy reform! He manages to sound absolutely blase about these things that he keeps saying are important. Now something about the highway funding bill. He says the biggest failure has been the rising deficit. Applause. But it isn't due to tax cuts! The war on terror and the economic slowdown cost money, but President Bush has a plan to cut spending, and with economic growth, he says we can recover without abandoning tax cuts.
Blogging the Future Wisconsin Conference, pt 3
Barry Poulson, Ph.D.

They sure like TABOR! Dr. Poulson is with the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and a professor at in-the-news-lately UC-Boulder.

He begins his remakrs by talking George Norlin, the President of UC-Boulder in the 1930s. He went to Berlin in 1933, and immediately after, began writing about the evils of fascism. Poulson also praises Milton Friedman. He talks about these people in order to not talk about his university's rather famous recent professor.

But now he moves into his scheduled remarks - TABOR in Colorado, which he helped design. Colorado hasn't raised taxes, he says, since 1992.

Why does Wisconsin need it? We aren't doing very well economically, he says, and we're deteriorating. We've created no new jobs in the last decade. He blames these problems largely on Wisconsin having the 6th highest tax rates nationally. So, he calls for the constraint of government growth, and business stabilization, through TABOR. If the private sector has to cut spending, so should the government, he says.

He also calls for Wisconsin to give every school a grade every year - if it fails for three years in a row, it is closed and re-opened as a charter school. He also wants reform in higher education - Colorado has a voucher program for universities that grew out of their TABOR that allows students to put state money toward private schools. He wants to see the same thing in Wisconsin - competition, he says, will push for a better school system.

He ends with calling for us to show the same courage as Norlin and Friedman and Reagan.

Update: they give him a cheesehead! "When TABOR becomes law in Wisconsin, you'll have to wear this for a week."
Blogging the Future Wisconsin Conference, pt 2
Personal Freedoms

Moderator David Zien
1. Ed Thompson - Libertarian candidate for Gov. in 2002. I didn't know he'd gotten about 10% of the vote
2. Michelle Litjens - proponent of personal responsibilities
3. Sheriff David Clarke
4. Michale Dean - First Amendment law scholar

Thompson goes first. "It's a failure of our society that the people of Wisconsin has lost control of our society." It's the fault of special interest lobbyists. Keeping third parties out of the debates is wrong. He's really fired up!
"We've got a Republican legislature - what are they doing that's so hot?"
He goes on a quick libertarian rant about drugs, especially marijuana. "The only people that will hate it if you legalize pot is the gangs! ... Who owns your body?" Someone says, "God." Thompson: "Yeah. I own my own body!"
I like that Thompson is here - representing the libertarian side of the party is important to me.
"Drop your labels - have the courage to look at every situation as it really is!"
Is he going too far now? He's arguing that we're getting close to something akin to the Soviet Union with all of our regulation.
He says we need the "courage to not be reelected by the politicians."
I like this phrase - "just as sure as ugly's on an ape!" about the danger of receding personal freedoms.

Moderator - "Can't you see this being a travelling road show?"

David Clarke is up next. "I'm still euphoric from the November presidential election." There is a lot of applause from the crowd for that.
He mentions that he was raised in a two-parent home, and says how sad it is that about 70% of minorities are raised in single-parent households. He mentions a proverb: "The ruin of a nation begins in the households."
He criticizes LBJ's Great Society and the War on Poverty, and the Sixties generally. "We've spent over 3 trillion dollars, and ladies and gentlemen, government does a horrible job at social uplifting." Business, education, and the church, and to a small extend government held society together. But businesses fled, schools began to disintegrate, and the church doesn't play the same role any more, he says, so that during the '60s, and underclass was created.
When marriage came under attack, and fathers became less available to their children, and unwed pregnancies and abortions rose.
The universities are in a "stranglehold of liberal orthodoxy".
The Church became marginalized.
To increase personal responsibility, he says, we must regenerate the three pillars that were damaged during the Sixties. He sees a 20-year revival of these institutions coming up.

The moderator has a cool vibe. He gets in some quirky one-liners, but his intangible style is great. He points out that Michelle Litjens is the only woman on the panel. I wonder why he didn't point out that Clarke wasn't the only Black man? These are harder things to talk about, maybe.

So, Michelle Litjens. She's also head of the Winnebago County Republican Party. "I'll be expanding on what Sheriff Clarke has said."
She worries about punishing taxpayers with being overburdened. She complains about the obesity epidemic, school problems, credit card debt, and lack of parents involved with children. She comes back to obesity a few times - it seems to really be an issue for her.
If government can't control its spending, how can it expect private citizens to control theirs, she asks.
Bankruptcy, personal debt - the private sector is not pushing private responsibility either, and government needs private spending to keep out of recession.
Responsible people should not be forced to pay for irresponsible people through health insurance premiums, she says, in regard to the obesity epidemic. Excercise is even good for depression!
Government needs to disregard profits and teach prevention - even though she says that sounds like a "liberal idea". We need to teach kids how to stay healthy.
School problems can also be traced back to parent involvement, she says. Parents shouldn't try to "bully teachers around" - she cites the case recently thrown out of a father who tried to sue a school for giving summer homework.
Because of our diversity, it is harder to have general unwritten social guidelines, but she says we need to embrace diversity and create personal responsibility guidelines.

Moderator makes a joke about Litjens's rant about obesity - he claims to have anorexia.

Michael Dean is up last. He begins by talking about his fight to preserve World Prayer Day. His talk is called "Liberty, Order, and the Freeway."
First, moral restraint is important to everyone, so he wants to talk about "money and sex."
First, money - he gives a quick joke: "What do you call a man who works, only to have all his money taken away? A slave. What do you call someone who works, only to have 50% of it taken away? A free citizen." A lot of politics is generated by resentment of the rich, he says.
Another danger is moral inversion - shifting personal obligations to someone else
Now sex - government should put up traffic lights if needed. However, problem is that focus has changed since Civil War from local government to federal.
found rights which weren't rights - when everything is a right, everything is a federal issue. He implicitly applies this to the gay rights issue, and explicitly to being able to buy porn. There are two theories of morality, he says - one is radical individualism (who needs traffic lights?). He gets physically upset over his involvement in fighting the importation of child pornography, and says there is no way to live life without affecting other people. "Moral behavior does have consequences." He opposes this with the "speed trap theory" - "Someone is watching you, so stay on the road."
But in the end he says he's a federalist - these issues need to be decided at the local level.

It's too bad these people didn't get to talk longer. I would have loved to have heard Ed and Michael fight things out, and Michelle and David could also have made great contributions. Best panel yet.

Update: a good question for David about the Drug War. He says we need to take on new partners - it starts with the acknowledgement that we've lost the War on Drugs."
Blogging the Future Wisconsin Conference, pt 1
Taxes and Spending Panel

The panel consists of five people: moderator Representative Glenn Grothman; panelists Senator Tom Reynolds, State Rep. Frank Lasee, JJ Blonien, Steve Loehrke.

Grothman starts - he says that comparing taxes to other states doesn’t do justice to how bad the situation is. Then he lets the panelists start.

Senator Reynolds is first up. The "Whopper of statistics, or the Big Mac if you're a Burger King fan" is that Wisconsin is the last (or 49th according to WEAC) is quality of retirement. "Go West, young man; go South, old man," he says.

Then Representative Lasee is up. He seems much better prepared than Reynolds. He starts with a joke - "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Someone calls out, "Take that man's mic away!" He says that state Republicans have blindly followed Democratic spending increases. TABOR, he says, will put an end to that by calling for referenda on any proposed government expansion. The root problem, he says, is when government runs a surplus - spending always increases, setting new minimum spending levels for next year.

Now for JJ Blonien. He's the editor for the Wisconsin Conservative Digest, among other things. He largely agrees with Lassee - big government advocates need to be "protected from themselves".

Loehrke is last. He is the school board president in Weyewega/Freemont, but makes clear that he isn't speaking in his capacity as such. He is speaking very quickly from prepared notes. He has a number of things he says need to change in schools:
-Teacher pay scales - performance-based pay
-Reverse current policies that forbid outcome-based rewards for teachers
-School choice
-Standardized tests for passing every grade level
-QEO - Qualified Economic Offer - teachers have been singled out, so it’s bad, but eliminate binding arbitration as well
-Health insurance shouldn’t be controlled by teachers’ unions - base it on state plan
-Teacher discipline
-Centralized jobs - why not use best school’s curriculum for all schools?
-Don’t require experience as a teacher for District Administrator leadership - have this be a business person

Grothman asks the panel about a criticism of TABOR - some say that we shouldn’t have to change constitution - just elect someone else.
Blonien says that for last 35 years, pols have promised that, but haven’t delivered.
Lassee says there is a statute on government growth, but it’s porous and can be ignored.
Reynolds says there needs to be an external constraint on legislators when there is no internal constraint; a vocal minority puts a lot of pressure on legislators.
Loehrke: It's"too hard to be the bad guy."
Lasee says, "We get credit for starting new programs. When nice people ask for small programs, they grow."
Blonien goes back to Colorado: "in Colorado, the legislation came from the people, not the legislature; even Reps opposed it."
Grothman jumps in with a comment: “Nobody wants to wear the black hat”; he also takes a swing at the incompetent press corps - “The only people who know what’s going on are the ones who want to spend money”.
Loehrke has an anecdote: "The Post Crescent came when the school district had trouble, but stopped when we fixed the problem."
Lasee concludes: “power to tax and spend is a lot of power”.

New question: "Most opposition will come from schools - are we spending enough on schools?"
Blonien says no matter how much we spend, it will never be enough; schools face most problems when enrollment is declining - this is on the horizon; many states have done it for less.
Lasee points out that Minnesota spends 12% less than WI; paying teachers less (6% total package) can work.
Reynolds says collective bargaining reform will be needed; "We spend more than any Midwestern state on education - that’s largely due to influence of organized labor in state."
Loehrke calls it the “reverse Robin Hood” - don’t believe teachers are overworked and underpaid; he gets the crowd murmuring about number of days teachers get off even during school year.
Grothman says school districts claim to be cutting, but they aren’t - student-to-teacher ratios are dropping so costs must be going up.

Update: welcome Althouse readers! She was right - it is in fact Representative Glenn Grothman, not a magical Growthman! Althought that would fit in well with what's going on here.


Another hit

The third edition of the Mendota Beacon is out. I keep saying it, because it still deserves it - best one yet. On my pages, at least, we've hit our stride - we had two themes this week.

Internationally, we had general trends in democracy. Nationally, the judiciary.

And dig the spiffy new design!


Looking at the wrong things

Al-Muhajaba links to Juan Cole's argument that occupation, not dictatorship, is the cause of terrorism.

He cites quite a few instances in which oppressed peoples used terrorism to throw off foreign occupying armies. Fair enough, as far as it goes. But what he doesn't note is that these armies were themselves dictatorships. He tries to set up Anwar Sadat as the democrat who brought back a terrorist organization called the Muslim Brotherhood, which later formed "groups like Ayman al-Zawahiri's al-Gihad al-Islami and Sheikh Omar's al-Gamaah al-Islamiyah". But Sadat was a democrat in the the same way Mubarak now is a democrat - meaning, not precisely. Cole also points to the British earlier in Egypt, to the French in Algeria, the CIA in Iran, the Israelis in Palestine, the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Russians in Chechnya, and (presumably) the Indians in Kashmir (though he only mentions Kashmir without saying which side is occupying it, so maybe he's talking about Pakistan?).

The thing is, he misses the point totally. Western occupation isn't the problem - the problem is that each of these occupations was itself tyrannical. What if the Brits, French, or the CIA had created democracies by engaging the local populations? This counterfactual has at least one historical reference - say, the British in India. The situation in India is the way it is today because of British colonialism, like it or not. And now, the US is doing the same - creating democracies by engaging the Afghanis and the Iraqis, respectively.

There are a few more interesting problems with Cole's analasys. First, he doesn't mention that Pakistan was largely responsible for the funding of the Taliban, even beyond the American money they channeled. If that wasn't a large-scale terrorist group, I don't know what would be. Nor does he talk about Saudi Arabia - clearly not a democracy, clearly a state sponsor of large-scale terror. Nor yet Libya. OK. I think the deeper issue is this - all of the governments that grew up out of terrorist-induced colonial overthrows came to see terrorism as a useful method of accomplishing their goals. So many stifled attempts at reform, so many dictators (first foreign, then home-grown), created a radically disenfranchised population. The fact that some of the dictators were European is largely immaterial - they were still dictators.

This leaves the Israel-Palestine situation. Cole pins blame on the Jews - of course the Muslims couldn't help but turn terrorist after the evil Zionists moved in. They don't know any better. I don't buy it. It's an excuse, and a rather racist one at that.

So is democracy a cure-all? No. Will it be immediately effective in every situation? No. But Bush never said it would be. What he has said, is that it will begin to change the political culture in the Middle East. We're already seeing the signs of that. Democracy and peace are two very long, difficult processes. They don't happen overnight. They may take years. But you can't begin to fight terrorism effectively until the people see they can make a difference peacefully.

I didn't see Dan Rather's sign-off tonight, so I can't comment. But Ann Althouse had something interesting to say:
I found it a bit creepy that Rather ladled all that 9/11 material on his final show. Then, he spoke of "courage," a theme he tied to 9/11, soldiers fighting, and the tsunami victims. He didn't say: and it took courage for me to deal with all my 9/11/war/tsunami-like travails. But there was a disturbingly Nixonesque look on his face that seemed to plead pity me.

Credit where it's due

The normally despicable ASM has finally done something useful - they are refunding the $757,000 surplus they discovered a few weeks ago. Well, to a certain extend. What they're actually doing is deducting that amount from the amount we'll have to pay next year in Segregated Fees.

Not perfect - heavens know I could use the beer money - but it's a start. ASM needs to realize that Seg Fee money is ours, not theirs. I think they've started on the right path.
Proud to be a Barbarian

I've come to a realization. I'm a barbarian. And I'm okay with that.

How did I find out I'm a barbarian, you ask? Well, I've long suspected it. In Hungary, people thought I was cool because I was from the States, but I knew I wasn't as cultured as my friend from Sao Paulo, nor as worldly as most of the other metropolitan exchange students. Still, it was all cool - we were all having a good adventure.

Then I came to UW-Madison, and got into foreign movies - or, should I say, films - and thought I was pretty sophisticated. Then I met some actual film people. They were way too highbrow, and started to drive me a bit nuts. Also, I found a home in the College Republican club, and began writing for the evil conservative newspaper. I should have seen it then, but I continued on.

But the final blow came yesterday. The New Yorker is in town, and they were giving out free hot chocolate and copies of their magazine. Aha! I thought. What a great way for me to connect with my highbrow peers!

Then I opened the darn thing up. It was drivel! This can't be right I thought. Where are all the clever witticisms? The clever sarcasm? It was fine writing, but not particularly great. The cartoons were rubbish.

And so the scales fell from my eyes. It feels good, actually. Wisconsinites should be barbarians, anyway. We do battle on the Frozen Tundra. We feast on brats and cheese and beer. We proudly dance to one of the most barbaric dances ever - the polka!

In the classic Hungarian play The Tragedy of Man, the apostle Paul welcomes the oncoming Germanic hordes. They will bring fresh, strong blood to the Roman Empire, wasted as it was through decadence and sloth. Likewise, I still enjoy the coffeehouses, but now I enjoy them as a barbarian king - a proud savage feasting in the glittering halls for the overthrown empire. And that's why the liberals are afraid of us.