Hey, did you hear the one about how Gov. Scott Walker wants to kill puppies?
A dog-loving liberal told this to me in all seriousness. She added, “It’s in the budget!”
As a dog-loving conservative, I got so upset I began to sputter – but only at the utter falseness of the charge.
That particular accusation is so ridiculous, it’s even been debunked on the uber-liberal “Dane 101” website, where contributor Jesse Russell wrote “Some people have taken issue with a provision in Governor Scott Walker's budget proposal that allows pounds to transfer stray dogs to University system research facilities. The problem with turning this into a "Gov. Walker hates dogs" story is that it simply isn't true.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact team also checked it out and pronounced it false.
It’s just one of several – and I use the polite word here –distortions that have popped up in conversation and on Facebook in the weeks since Walker introduced his budget and the government unions took to the streets in protest.
Here are my favorites, and some ammunition to fire back – ooh, if that’s an uncivil phrase, I sincerely apologize – if you encounter any of these so-called “facts.”
Back in February, The Economist reported on its website:
“Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:
“South Carolina - 50th
“North Carolina - 49th
“Georgia - 48th
“Texas - 47th
“Virginia - 44th
“If you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country.”
Chicagoan David Burge refutes this at length on his brilliant, beautifully written blog. Here's an excerpt:
“The point being, I suppose, is that unionized teachers stand as a thin chalk-stained line keeping Wisconsin from descending into the dystopian non-union educational hellscape of Texas. Interesting, if it wasn't complete bulls***.
“As a son of Iowa, I'm no stranger to bragging about my home state's ranking on various standardized test. Like Wisconsin we Iowans usually rank near the top of the heap on average ACT/SAT scores. We are usually joined there by Minnesota, Nebraska, and the various Dakotas; Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire...
“... beginning to see a pattern? Perhaps because a state's "average ACT/SAT" is, for all intents and purposes, a proxy for the percent of white people who live there. In fact, the lion's share of state-to-state variance in test scores is accounted for by differences in ethnic composition.
Minority students - regardless of state residence - tend to score lower than white students on standardized test, and the higher the proportion of minority students in a state the lower its overall test scores tend to be.
“Please note: this has nothing to do with innate ability or aptitude. Quite to the contrary, I believe the test gap between minority students and white students can be attributed to differences in socioeconomic status. And poverty. And yes, racism. And yes, family structure.
Whatever combination of reasons, the gap exists, and it's mathematical sophistry to compare the combined average test scores in a state like Wisconsin (4% black, 4% Hispanic) with a state like Texas (12% black, 30% Hispanic).”
Regarding the link between poverty and test scores, a pro-union teacher reported recently in the Wall Street Journal that in school districts with less than 10 percent poverty, U.S. students routinely test as well as their peers in nations with overall test scores far better than the United States, such as Singapore and Finland.
I hesitate to include this next example because it is not so much a distortion as complete gibberish, albeit gibberish those public employees have latched onto with both hands.
But here goes: According to Tax.com’s David Cay Johnston, “Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.”
Hunh? You can read the whole thing here.
Good luck figuring it out. I’ve read it half-a-dozen times and sometimes, if I ponder it after three extra-dry martinis, it makes sense – for a fleeting nanosecond.
So who is David Cay Johnston? He’s a teacher at Syracuse University and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. (So was Janet Cook…) He writes a monthly column for the left-wing magazine “The Nation.” He also has been accused ofexaggerating his academic credentials:
Which leads to another charge: “Walker never graduated from college.”
It’s true, but you can always respond, “Neither did Steve Jobs, Bill gates – or David Cay Johnston.”
I’ve also heard “Walker got expelled from Marquette University for cheating.”
The best information I’ve found is that Walker was accused of campaign irregularities – OK, cheating -- when he ran for student body president as a sophomore.
He didn’t leave Marquette for two more years, which makes it seems unlikely he was expelled over the incident. (I usually add, “I’d hate for you to find out what I was doing when I was 20 years old.”)
Then there is the odious “Walker = Hitler” comparison, to which I always respond, angrily: “That’s an insult to the memories of the 12 million people murdered by Hitler and everybody who died in World War II!”
And when I say, “Scott Walker was democratically elected,” my liberal friends crow triumphantly “So was Hitler!”
The proper answer to that calumny is: “Not in any Democratic election we would recognize.”
Hitler ran twice for president of Germany and was defeated both times. Nor did his Nazi Party ever capture a majority of seats in the German parliament.
But because the Nazis were the top vote-getters – achieving a plurality in a multi-party system, but not a majority at Wisconsin Republicans achieved in 2010 – Hitler was able to force German President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint him as chancellor. After Hindenburg’s death a year later, Hitler declared the presidency vacant and became dictator.
So much for democracy.
Of course, liberals aren’t the only ones who can glom on to a factoid and distort it. For example, my GOP Facebook friends have been crowing about the discovery that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi’s son, Jacob Sinderbrand, is a lifelong political activist with ties to the Service Employees International Union. Sumi (and what a great name for a judge, by the way!) has issued two rulings against the Walker administration in recent weeks.
That sounded like a pretty clear case of an appearance of conflict of interest. But before I made up my mind, I checked with a lawyer friend and was told that Sumi disclosed her son’s activities to both sides, and was not asked to recuse herself. There you have it: If she’s good enough for Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, she’s good enough for me.
Besides, as the mother of a son who once jumped off the top of the Monona Terrace Convention Center into Lake Monona, I’m loathe to blame any fellow mom for the ill-thought-out actions of her offspring. (See “What I Did When I Was 20,” above.)
I’m sure the lies – er, distortions – will keep on coming in the weeks ahead. As always, the best way to respond is with research and truth.
Now, if I can only figure out how to explain to my liberal friends that collective bargaining is not a “right”…
-March 21, 2011