Erin Richards at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelblogged yesterday about a 60 Minutes report on a man who lives in Pennsylvania with connections to a network of charter schools operating in 26 states. Richards writes:
“The 60 Minutes segment points out that many of these schools linked to Gulen are high-achieving, and focus on math and science.”
Two of these charter schools currently operate in Wisconsin (one of these schools, Wisconsin Career Academy, did not have its MPS charter renewed and is planning on joining the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program next year). Milwaukee talks a lot about the need to bring successful school operators to town, so the arrival of these schools is presumably a good thing.
Cue scary music. Gulen is from Turkey, and he is Muslim. Hence, the 60 Minutes piece “questions why Turkish immigrants linked to a powerful religious leader are building so many schools in the U.S.”
The story harkens back to some of the more ridiculous statements made about school choice over the years. Howard Fuller and Kaleem Caire detailed many of these in a 2001 report called “Lies and Distortion.” Most notable was former DPI Superintendent John Benson publicly worrying that folks like Timothy McVeigh might come to Milwaukee to start a school.
The fears documented by Fuller and Caire and Clinton’s concern are of course ridiculous. The Milwaukee voucher program has included religious schools since 1998. During that time a mix of Islamic, Jewish, Catholic and Christian, and non-sectarian schools have coexisted without any sign of religious extremism. Shockingly, people of all faiths seem united in wanting quality education for their children.
If Gulen’s schools are failing academically or if he is violating state or federal laws I too would be concerned. However, the heartburn over Gulen appears to be about his faith and nationality. In 2012, that is depressing.
“My suspicion is that the LOUD VOLUME and the unyielding certitude that defines political discourse are signs that reveal that someone else is shaping your thinking.”
The column immediately brought to mind a passage in the memoir of the recently departed Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in response to criticism of his evolving political beliefs:
“I had become too accustomed to the psuedo-Left new style, whereby if your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method, which is now the norm and the standard in much non-Left journalism as well, is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst.”
Both of these statements are insightful, and depressing. Can a Democracy function when volume has become more important than substance? To answer my own question, it can function, but certainly not well. It is tempting to blame the sorry state of political discourse in Wisconsin on a polarizing Governor or an obstructive legislative minority, but alas the dysfunction is not confined to Wisconsin.
I put at least part of the blame on the democratization of media. While the proliferation of alternative media has served an important watchdog function and likely improved the overall quality of political journalism, it has had the latent effect of giving every close-minded individual a source to reinforce their position (and yes, I am aware I am writing on a blog). Whether you are a birther, a truther, or believe the Koch brothers control the universe, you can find someone to confirm your views against all logic and evidence. Those are extreme examples of course. More damaging and more prolific are the otherwise open-minded individuals that expose themselves only to left or right leaning media.
Perhaps I am guilty of doing what I just criticized, finding a source to confirm my bias that the generation of which I am a member can do better than those prior. But perhaps we will do better. We have to, right?
Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel features a story about how “civility” has been lost in Wisconsin due to the conflict over collective bargaining rights. The article goes out of its way to show that both sides are guilty of incivility, with UW-Madison political science professor Dennis Dresang declaring that “nobody’s got a monopoly on rhetoric and threats and incendiary language.”
Of course, this attempt to find equivalency between the actions of the Right and the Left in Wisconsin is pure nonsense. The attempt to show “both sides do it” falls apart if the reader has any recollection at all of the events of the past eight months. Let’s take a quick look at the Democrats’ “profiles in civility:”
Democratic state Rep. Gordon Hintz yelling at fellow Rep. Michelle Litjens “you’re f***ing dead.”
Sen. Spencer Coggs said Walker’s bill was “legalized slavery” and Rep. Joe Parisi said Walker was “calling the National Guard out on the people of Wisconsin.”
Fourteen state senators fled the state to block passage of Walker’s collective bargaining bill (including Tim Cullen, who decries the loss of civility in the MJS article.)
Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on the Capitol, many with profane signs comparing Walker to Hitler, bin Laden, etc. (Remember this lady? (Language Warning.) See anything like this at Tea Party rallies?)
Aggressive, militant activists have been following lawmakers everywhere they go, filming them, verbally harassing them, and pouring beer on one.
The “solidarity singers” have been yelling every day in the capitol rotunda, forcing things such as blood drives to move to places other than the Capitol.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court likely leaked a story to the press accusing one of her colleagues of choking another justice – a story that was completely debunked, and the accused justice was eventually exonerated.
Committee hearings have been disrupted, with people being dragged out by their feet – one woman chained her head to the railing of the state senate parlor with a bike lock.
Illegal activity has been rampant, whether it is liberal activists providing ribs for votes doctors providing fake sick notes notes, or otherwise.
Protesters disrupting every Walker public speaking event, including a Special Olympics ceremony.
In the most toxic campaign ad of 2011,the Left tried to make it seem like Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was the best friend of pedophiles, digging up a case Prosser prosecuted as a district attorney 30 years ago. (There were no similar ads run by any Republicans either in the Supreme Court race or the state senate recalls.)
Teachers pulling their kids out of school, shutting down Madison schools for 4 days, and bringing the kids to capitol rallies.
The desecration of the state capitol, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup costs.
Marching not only at Scott Walker’s home, but at the homes of individual legislators that don’t have any police protection.
And probably most uncivilly, Democrats refused to participate in this year’s staff versus legislator softball game.
I am really making an honest attempt to find anything from the Right that matches anything on this list. At one point, a friend of former State Senator Dave Zien allegedly tried to punch a solidarity singer. The reports of collecting signatures and shredding recall petitions is merely a rumor; there’s no evidence anyone on the Right caused the “cyberattack” that liberals are complaining about.
And honestly – let’s say some right-wing hacker caused this “cyberattack.” What’s worse – that, or the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court likely planting a fake story in the paper in an attempt to smear a fellow justice?
So the real story here isn’t that civility on both sides has been lost; it is that Walker supporters have maintained their composure amid an avalanche of poisonous actions by union loyalists.
Filed under: Budget,Media — Christian Schneider @ 10:56 am
At the height of tensions in Madison last week, I debated Scott Walker’s budget repair bill with Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now. The event, sponsored by the The Madison Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, was held at Brocach Pub on the Capitol square on Thursday night, and I was in Day 3 of of a week-long illness. The people there seemed to enjoy it, despite the Grim Reaper hovering over my shoulder.
Filed under: Media — Christian Schneider @ 8:25 am
With history unfolding in Madison, Wisconsin over the past few days, I’ve written a number of articles describing the scene.
Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the New York Times giving a basic breakdown of the issue:
So far, Walker’s plans have been fiscally modest, but politically bold. Public employee unions will continue to protest, even though the governor is the first politician who has told them the truth in ages. If government workers continue to call his bluff, their protests will likely be much smaller in the future.
Here’s a column I wrote for the National Review Online discussing teachers’ use of their students in the protests:
In the meantime, the capitol was packed with thousands of government employees, many of whom had staged a “sleep-in” the night before. One sign-wielding protester approached a tie-wearing GOP staffer and sneered, “You must be a Republican.” He turned and asked, “Because I’m working?”
The raucous, drum-beating crowd was mostly made up of teachers, high-school kids, and University of Wisconsin students. On Thursday, school districts all over the state began canceling classes as their teachers called in sick en masse — government-employee strikes are illegal in Wisconsin — and teachers continued to bring their students to protest with them.
I wrote this column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that ran on Thursday:
Yet if you tell Democratic legislators that a vote against Walker’s plan is a vote to cut government jobs, they likely will look at you as if you just tried to stuff a live halibut into their mouths. They will tell you that there are many options available to balance the budget – options that are so popular, they enacted exactly zero of them in the last budget, when they had full control of state government. Their deficit-reduction plan consisted of hoping the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, so people didn’t notice the giant hole in the state’s finances. (They got half their wish.)
In the Isthmus last week, I wrote about Wisconsin union leaders’ tendency to call people “whores.”
So, for the record, it appears Beil’s hierarchy of insults runs the gamut between “whore” (the worst), “prostitute” (not quite as bad) and “purveyor of the world’s oldest profession.” Yet some might even be tempted to include “paid union lobbyist” in their “pyramid of prostitution.” It’s a wonder Charlie Sheen hasn’t given Beil a call to go party in a hotel room.
And, of course, there are the updates I’ve written for WPRI – my column on Monday here and a blog post from last Friday here.
Stay tuned for more – should be more exciting developments to come. And we’ll be there.
So it seems the entirety of Wisconsin’s press corps (pronounced “core” for aspiring presidential candidates) is interested in where Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan has been privately introducing his motions. When initially asked by reporters whether he was dating a lobbyist with pending interests before the Legislature, Sheridan denied it, saying the two were just “friends.” A day later, Sheridan conceded that, in fact, the two were dating – but the damage had been done. He lied to the media – and once you do that, you’re like a mouse dropped into a snake pit. Reporters around the state are now digging around Sheridan’s campaign finance reports to see whether he was wining and dining his ladyfriend with his campaign funds. Had he come clean at the time, this would be a two day story – instead, he’s hemorrhaging political capital.
I haven’t written anything about this yet, because I just figured Sheridan’s dating habits weren’t really my business. Generally, these workplace rules about who two grown adults can or can’t date are nonsense. They essentially just mean “don’t get caught.” (Incidentally, there could have been a state law mandating someone from my workplace date me, and I wouldn’t have been able to find someone to go out with.)
Furthermore, I guess I was just willing to give the Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say they weren’t passing this payday loan bill because it’s a terrible bill. (After all, Shanna Wycoff’s love couldn’t have been so powerful that it kept the Democrat-controlled Senate from passing a bill, too? OR COULD IT?)
But it is interesting how the issue has been portrayed in the press since Sheridan came clean about the relationship. Here there was a bill to regulate businesses – that actually occasionally throw a lifeline to people with credit so bad they can’t even get a checking account. (Full disclosure: I actually used one of these payday loan places during college, when my credit was abysmal. Banks would actually send goons out front to tackle me before I even walked in the front door.)
But, of course, here comes a bill to stop people from freely engaging in contracts to which they happily agreed. And because the bill was stopped cold, reporters and good government groups immediately blamed it on Sheridan’s conflict of interest. Our favorite good government lefty immediately chimed in:
“There’s no way the public will ever buy his argument that his relationship will have no effect on his handling of the payday loan legislation,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of government watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Now, however, because of Sheridan’s conflict of interest, the Assembly feels like they have to pass the bill, to counter allegations that they’re corrupt. Assembly Democrats claim that it’s pure coincidence that this bill is now moving like a cheetah on ice skates, after being a corpse two weeks ago. (Again, pronounced “corpse.”) Now, suddenly, the will of the people is being served – and forget about why that may be. Nothing to see here.
So in case you’re keeping track at home: Holding up a liberal bill because the Speaker of the Assembly has a girlfriend is corruption. Passing the same liberal bill because the Speaker of the Assembly has a girlfriend is just GOOD GOVERNMENT.
Naturally, now that the bill is moving, you won’t hear a word from any of these co-called “corruption watchdogs,” despite the bill only seeing action for the same reason it didn’t see any action before. Their level of outrage is directly commensurate to the amount they agree with the legislation being held up. Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the bill passing through a committee is curiously lacking any good government group quotes.
So while I generally give Sheridan a pass, it is worth noting that he tends to be the kiss of death wherever he goes. He was a union leader at the General Motors plant in Janesville, which is now defunct. Then he took over the speakership of the Assembly, which immediately took a bad budget and made it worse. And if he stays on as Speaker, it almost seems likely that the Assembly will flip back into Republican hands under his watch. So while this “scandal” may not be that big of a deal to some, it could end up costing him his political career if reporters start to come back with actionable intelligence on his nationwide trysts.
Filed under: Media — Christian Schneider @ 12:04 pm
Granted, in the grand scheme of things, this is a minor quibble. But, just for the record:
On December 16th, I received a tip from a friend to go check out what was going on at the UW-Fox Valley with regard to “green” parking spots. As I wrote in this post, the students were organizing a cyber-backlash against campus dean Dr. James Perry, who suggested the campus should institute more “green” parking spots, which could only be used if students drove a low-emitting vehicle.
Fifteen days later, on New Year’s Eve, the Wisconsin State Journal issued this story – many parts which could have been cut and pasted directly from the WPRI post. It contained no recognition,and no attribution for WPRI originally breaking the story.
Obviously, we wrote the post because we thought it was newsworthy – and it’s cool that larger media outlets picked up the story. But a little courtesy would be welcome.
Filed under: Media — Christian Schneider @ 3:24 pm
War, famine, health care, Tiger Woods’ marriage. These are the important things that we should spend our time thinking about. But I admit, I often spend inordinate amounts of time being irritated by things that don’t matter. Such as the fact that Noodles & Co. has spaghetti and meatballs on their “American Food” menu.
(In fact, I have an hour penciled in on my calendar every day that says “worry incessantly about trivial matters.” So I have sixty minutes to finish this post.)
But there’s one thing I came across last week that has been puzzling me. Perhaps you can help me out on this one.
Here in Madison, there’s a free publication (aren’t they all now?) called The Isthmus. Sometimes, it’s even good. But last week, the headline of a feature on Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s run for the Wisconsin governorship read as follows:
Scott Walker’s challenge
He thinks government is part of the problem, but wants to be governor
Here’s the actual picture from their website:
The key word in the subtitle is “but.” Inclusion of the word “but” implies that the second half of the sentence is somehow at odds with the first.
Now, there’s no doubt that they were high-fiving themselves silly over at The Isthmus when they thought up this apparent “contradiction.” ”Ha! We got him! A guy that hates government wants a government job! What a hypocrite! This should be on the freaking COVER!” (And it was.)
It seems strange, however, that before putting this on the cover, nobody stopped to mention the obvious: that it doesn’t actually make any sense.
Here you have a guy in Scott Walker who clearly thinks government is broken, and there’s too much of it. Is it somehow contradictory of him to seek the governorship to rectify the problems that he sees? Isn’t that how a conservative would most rationally go about affecting change? Would he be more ideologically pure if he stood on a street corner holding a sign that says “down with combined reporting?”
Somehow, I don’t think the Isthmus would see it that way. (On the flip side, it doesn’t make liberals’ public service any more noble because they push for higher taxes and more government employment.)
So while the whole “conservatives are hypocrites if they seek public office” angle might be popular among the liberati’s dinner parties in Madison, it doesn’t make any sense in practice. Although if we got rid of the state legislature altogether, that might be the one thing on which both ideologies can agree.
For months, people around Wisconsin have been anticipating the opening of the summer blockbuster “Public Enemies.” A large chunk of the movie was shot here in the Dairy State, and our tax dollars subsidized filming it to the tune of about $5 million.
Seeing as how we are a full service free market think tank here at WPRI, I used this specious connection to go see the movie to determine whether it was tax money well spent. I feel I am doing a public service to the taxpayers to report on the fruits of their generosity (and, I admit, I was excited to see if I knew anyone in the movie, and I have an unnatural man-crush on Christian Bale.)
I was actually surprised that they made me pay for a ticket, seeing as how my tax money has made me a co-producer of this film. In fact, I’m still waiting for my director’s chair and bullhorn, and anticipate they will show up at my house any day now.
So here’s the quick synopsis of the movie:
It’s bad. Really, really bad. Closing in on awful.
It is apparent that about 20 bucks of our $5 million was spent on a script. The movie meanders along, without any interesting dialogue or insight. At 2 hours, 15 minutes, it’s about 45 minutes too long. Johnny Depp, who plays John Dillinger, seems almost to be embarrassed to be in the movie at all. Characters talk to each other with canned speeches that don’t even approach plausibility. By the time the inevitable end came, I had checked my watch about 10 times.
Perhaps the most grating aspect of the movie is Oscar winning French actress Marion Cotillard, who’s about 15% as hot as an actress that should be playing that role. Even worse is her attempt to speak English without a heavy French accent. It comes and goes, which is interesting, considering she’s playing a character who’s half Indian and who grew up in Wisconsin.
In fact, isn’t there a big movement up at the Capitol to prevent the state from contracting with foreigners for government business? There were a hundred American actresses that could have played that part – we should crack down on the OUTSOURCING OF OUR HOT ACTRESSES! (Holding hand over heart while the Star Spangled Banner plays in the background.)
For me, the only cool parts of the movie were the ones that took place in the Capitol, where I worked for 8 years. I immediately picked out the North Hearing Room, where a lot of the partisan caucuses used to take place. And I got the chills when the characters walk around the inside the Capitol.
I certainly don’t mean to dissuade anyone in Wisconsin from going to see the movie, especially if you recognize some of the sets in Columbus, Oshkosh and elsewhere. But it really is a crushing disappointment. I am amazed that big budget movies this bad can actually get made. But who cares if Wisconsin taxpayers are out $5 million for a terrible movie? SOME PEOPLE GOT TO WAVE TO JOHNNY DEPP!
In fact, conservatives have an opportunity here – if government-subsidized movies are this bad, imagine how bad government health care will be. If people draw the connection, single-payer government health plans will be dead within a week.
In this most recent budget, Governor Doyle scaled back the film tax credit to $500,000. It’s a good thing for supporters of the credit that he did so before seeing “Public Enemies.” If had seen the movie in advance, he may have actually started charging movies to film here.
Perhaps most importantly, why didn’t anyone tell me that this guy from “Dazed and Confused” was in Wisconsin filming the movie?