Category Archives: On Wisconsin

Understanding Tenure

This might be the last post I’m able to accomplish for quite some time. I’m not sure what the future holds, now that the UW Regents brought to you by Carl’s Jr…. er… Scott Walker have failed to fight back against the plan to eliminate the state statute that protects professorial tenure. Those who have supported this move in the statehouse, especially Alberta Darling, whose name is an anagram for “Blaring Alert Ad,” have said this isn’t the elimination of tenure. Instead, it’s simply moving it from the state law to the regents’ control, so it’s the same basic thing. This is true, much in the way that if you love the smell of the $158 Calvin Klein Eternity, you’ll love the 50-cent version of this “impostor fragrance” spurted on you from the machine in the truck stop bathroom. The classic scent of a “harmonious blend of white flowers and creamy woods” is so much like the spray of cheap alcohol and cat piss you get at “Cum-N-Go” fuel depot.

I understand why people who feel that professors are lazy or don’t do work or generally sit in their offices in tweed coats and smoke alabaster pipes all day think tenure is bullshit. Truth be told, those of use who view tenure as a shield hate people who use it as a sword to fend off actual work and shared responsibilities. However, you shouldn’t get rid of the whole system simply because a few useless assholes are taking advantage of it. That’s like throwing away your Cadillac Escalade because somebody jammed gum into the ashtray.

The purpose of tenure is to provide faculty with the ability to fearlessly study, publish, promote and question ideas, topics and institutions that might not sit well with everyone else. It also allows professors, who are seen as the experts in their fields, to self-define what makes for worthwhile scholarly and professional endeavors. Thus, a professor who wants to understand how pornography shapes the minds of adults and influences heavy users in their sexual relationships later in life can do so without some half-wit popcorn farmer waving a “Gentlemen Prefer Bridget” DVD in their face and then pink-slipping the scholar.

It’s also why I get to do this. Each week (OK, I’ve been slipping a bit recently…) I get to find a topic of interest, create a post, include links, post the material, read the responses, track the readership data and examine the influence of my words. It also allows me to go back and analyze my own writing to see my influences over time and the ways in which certain topics either emboldened or cowed me in my approach to coverage. I was lucky enough to have a friend/colleague/co-asylum-dweller who had a successful blog who would let me post and give me the chance to see how this all works in a real-life scenario. This is basically the world’s coolest writing lab on a platform a lot of my students will need to understand if they hope to be employable.

I’m not sure how many people think this way about these posts or this blog or anything else they get on the Internet. In fact, I’d bet many people think I do this so I can kill time on a Friday while saying “fuck” a lot in front of other people.

And that the whole point of tenure: I got to decide what mattered and play in that sandbox in hopes of bettering myself without fear of getting fired for it or for lack of “a direct and measurable productivity and output statement.”

This is not, as some people say, “a job for life.” You can be fired as a tenured faculty member, but it just makes it a lot harder for hair-brained, hair-trigger idiots to do so. The people who WANT to fire you must show “just cause” under the state law, which means that professors who act all weird instead of teaching, have “crime-based” issues or view students as a smorgasbord of pussy (that one was for you, A), can and are shown the door. It also means that when you write, as I have, that my governor looks like that creature from “Dreamcatcher,” or that he has the IQ of a salad bar, or occasionally looks like Johnny Drama after he rubbed his boner up against Brooke Shields, no one can activate a trap door under your desk and drop your ass into the Rancor pit.

When a state law demands something with strong punitive measures to inhibit lawbreakers (think of speed limits in Rosendale), people tend to take that shit really seriously and think twice before doing something stupid. However, when it’s only supported by a smaller group with little authority and almost no tangible negative associated with it (think of when teachers on the last day of school yell, “No running in the halls!”), nobody really takes it seriously.

What the new policy will look like, no one here knows. The general reassurances of state officials, regents, system administrators and more are nice, but I’ve seen people fired for far less than what has been written here. It’s sad, but what we have held onto by retaining the Wisconsin Idea, we might be unable to accomplish because we now have people fearful of supporting that Idea.

An educational “outing” for the Republicans in the State of Wisconsin

It’s tough living with a secret that could force people to look at you in a different way. Friends and colleagues give you that “I thought I KNEW YOU!” look as they ponder their new reality. Some will denounce you for being that which you vehemently opposed. Others will quickly scramble to defend you with false-front excuses or seek to help you find a way to “repent for your sin.” Knowing all of this, many people with these deep secrets do their best to keep them quiet or disclose them only in passing to a few trusted members of an inner-circle.

One of the harsher ways to break this cycle is when someone decides it’s time to “out” you. The person lays bear your darkest truth in a raw, unvarnished fashion to the world at large.

In some cases, the results are disastrous, as it was when 18-year-old Tarence Mitchell murdered his older gay lover, who threatened to out him when Mitchell tried to end their two-year relationship.

In other cases, it forces someone to deal with a horrible thing that eventually leads to progress and important outcomes, as was the case of Arthur Ashe. Ashe, a championship tennis player, feared that USA Today was about to “out” him based on his HIV status. Although he stated he didn’t like being forced into a corner on this issue, he later stated he was no longer forced to lie.

In many cases, though, it shatters the illusions that a hypocrite weaves for their own benefit, as was the case with “the Rev.” Ted Haggard. The notoriously anti-gay Haggard was outed by a gay prostitute, which led to other accusations of sexual “improprieties” from other men.

Outing is risky, today, as lawmakers in the state of Wisconsin take up the UW System budget, I felt compelled to try this last-ditch effort to try to stop the madness of Gov. Deadeyes’ $300 million cut.

Republicans own 63 seats in the 99-seat assembly, which guarantees they can pretty much drive home whatever anti-intellectual crap that it seems the Clevons of this state want. It’s easy for them to kick the UW system around because it makes for good applause lines for people who think college kids sleep until noon, party all day and smoke “the mary jane” all day. It’s even easier to kick those lazy, overpaid professors who never do anything of value, making the point of pursuing a degree pointless.

I dug through the list of biographies of every Republican state officeholder for their level of education, assuming erroneously that the reason this seems to be a party of anti-education was because none of them could hack it.

I was wrong. Way wrong.

Here’s what those hard-working, every-man Republicans DON’T want you to know:

They have UW degrees. Lots of them.

Of the 63 seats listed as being Republican controlled, 21 of them are occupied by people who earned degrees at UW System schools.

Lest we confuse the issue, this doesn’t count the Republicans who got degrees from out of state or those who “attended” one of the various UW branches for a year or two.

These are people with diplomas on their walls from UW schools who are not standing up against the idea of screwing over the very places from which they matriculated.

And lest you think that they got those “real degrees” that are supposed to give you “real world job experience,” consider this:

  • Eight of the 21 majored in political science, a field often derided with the line of “Why try? Go Poli Sci!”
  • One of those eight (Kathleen Bernier) got her degree as a returning student, thus demonstrating both her resolve to get the degree and the esteem in which she must have held it.
  • Four of the 21 completed their degrees at that liberal hell hole known as UW-Madison
  • History and philosophy, two degrees parents hear about and say “What the hell are you going to do with that?” claim one Republican each (Rob Hutton and Warren Petryk)

The rest of the list is below (majors in parentheses when available):

  • Scott Allen – UW-Milwaukee (political science)
  • Joan Ballweg – UW-Stevens Point (elementary education)
  • Kathleen Bernier UW-Eau Claire (political science)
  • Janel Brandtjen – UW-Milwaukee (business/finance/marketing)
  • Ed Brooks – UW-Madison (agricultural economics)
  • David Craig- UW-Milwaukee
  • Mary Czaja – UW-River Falls (finance)
  • Cody Horlacher – UW-Whitewater (business)
  • Rob Hutton – UW-Whitewater (history)
  • Andre Jacque – UW-Madison
  • Samantha Kerkman – UW-Whitewater (political science)
  • Mike Kuglitsch – UW-Whitewater (business)
  • Amy Loudenbeck – UW-Madison (political science/international relations)
  • Jim Ott – UW-Milwaukee (bachelor’s and master’s degrees)
  • Warren Petryk – UW-Eau Claire (philosophy)
  • Romaine Quinn – UW-Green Bay (political science)
  • David Steffen – UW-Madison (political science)
  • Gary Tauchen – UW River Falls (animal science)
  • Nancy VanderMeer – UW-Lacrosse (psychology)
  • Tyler Vorpagel – UW-Green Bay (public administration and political science)
  • Robin Vos – UW-Whitewater (political science)

When you look at the senate, things deserve even more attention:

Of the 33 seats, Republicans control 19 of them.

Of those 19 seats, 12 are occupied by holders of UW degrees.

How toxic would it be for Republican voters to know about this? It’s clear that for some people, it’s scary as hell.

Mary Lazich, the senate president, lists many of her accomplishments in her official state biography, but never once mentions that she not only graduated from UW-Milwaukee, but also that (gasp) her degree was in social work or that (double gasp) she graduated summa cum laude.

Tom Tiffany and Leah Vukmir also fail to mention their status as proud graduates of state institutions. In Vukmir’s case, she has a master’s degree in nursing from UW-Madison.

Below is the whole list of Republican UW grads in the senate


  • Robert Cowles – UW-Green Bay
  • Alberta Darling – UW-Milwaukee (secondary education)
  • Scott Fitzgerald – UW-Oshkosh (journalism)
  • Mary Lazich – UW-Milwaukee (social work)
  • Howard Marklein – UW-Whitewater (accounting)
  • Steve Nass – UW-Whitewater (bachelor’s; master’s in school business management)
  • Luther Olsen – UW-Madison
  • Roger Roth – UW-Oshkosh
  • Duey Stroebel – UW-Madison (bachelor’s in business administration; master’s in real estate appraisal and investment analysis
  • Tom Tiffany UW River Falls (agricultural economics)
  • Leah Vukmir –UW Madison (master’s in nursing)

For many Republican voter, this would likely be some sort of a shock.

“But… but… but… We shot things together! We laughed at fart jokes! We talked about Jesus and how he called you to run for office! How can we trust you now?”

Relax, guys and gals, you can still dress in blaze orange with these nitwits and laugh when you fart in an elevator. Taste and moxie aren’t necessarily anathema to education.

However, this message is for those of you on the list above:

You need to stop denying who you are.

You aren’t people who “tried college once but found that it wasn’t for real Americans.” You graduated. You saw it all the way through.

You aren’t people who “don’t know better” like the people in some of these hinterland outposts of our state who once saw a black guy on TV. You went to those “inner-city hell holes” like UW-Milwaukee and those “liberal dens of debauchery” like UW-Madison.

You can’t tell stories about how you “worked flipping burgers” to pay your way through college (if you’ll admit to the college thing) without seeing that it was a hell of a lot cheaper/easier/supported when you went through than it is now.

What you can do and what you should do is stand up when others around you disparage the UW System, propose draconian budget cuts and generally beat up on your alma mater.

Tell the people in your own party, “I’m a UW graduate and I did pretty well in life because of it.”

It’s time to come out of the closet on this one.

The Golden Handshake

My father often spoke in somewhat wistful tones about the concept of The Golden Handshake. It was offered on rare occasion to the men and women of his factory, an opportunity of a lifetime in many cases.

The Golden Handshake was a buyout plan, but it was never pitched that way back at the factory. It was a “thank you” to a lot of the old guys and gals (usually guys, given the era) who had given a lot of their lives to the factory. It was a chance to retire with a bonus and a chance to leave on your own terms.

We give you a big chunk of money and move you into retirement. You agree to retire now so we can move some people around. It always sounded so reasonable.

When Dad decided to retire, I can’t remember if he got that Handshake or not. I do remember that he went to the HR guy and told him he was quitting (this was in November or something) and the guy actually told him not to.

“You’re going to finish up your two weeks and then you’re going to take all your vacation,” he told Dad. “Then on Jan. 2, you’re coming in for a day, punching in and then going on vacation until mid-March. That will use up all your benefits, keep you on salary and then we can move you to retirement money.”

It was an odd and purposeful gaming of the system that helped Dad stop working and yet get the better of the deal.

That’s not what I remembered about The Golden Handshake, however, when I heard that another couple UW campuses are offering it to some of the older faculty. The UW is applying some of those “business-conscious efforts” that private enterprises use when they need to cut costs. In this case, it’s because of Governor Deadeyes’ threat of a $300 million throat slash to the system.

What I remember about The Golden Handshake was what happened to people who didn’t take it.

Dad would tell stories about foremen shifting these old guys with tons of seniority to third-shift work. The guys often had their work reviewed by supervisors with who had keener eyesight and sharper pencils. The workload rules of “It will get done” became “It must get done now. Or else.”

In short it was “Resign or be prosecuted. Any way you want it.

I have heard more than a few stories of professors who have outlived their usefulness on various campuses. They rest on their laurels, they show way too many movies (most of them on VHS) and they kind of coast toward retirement.

We derisively referred to them as ROAD (Retired on active duty) while my buddy from the military used call them RIPs (Retired in place). I’m sure that each of these campuses have a few barnacles they’d like to scrape from the side of their hulls.

However, the problem is that these aren’t the people who will likely take the deal.

When I talked about stuff like this with my chair, we discussed a colleague who might have an opportunity to “handshake out.”

“No way he takes it,” my chair told me. “Why would you take half the money to do no work when you can get ALL the money and do almost no work?”

A similar RIP in my wife’s area loudly declared that if they offered something like that in her area, she’d flatly refuse. “I’ve got more money to make,” she noted.

And the downside as far as these UW campuses are concerned is that there are limited sticks they can use when the carrot fails. They could move class times to be less appealing or force older faculty to teach newer courses. However, in most cases, there isn’t a breaking point that would force the faculty’s hand. And when this happens, these people become the examples held up by legislators as the “lazy, tenured professors” who are milking the system.

It is unclear the degree to which these buyouts will work in improving quality while cutting costs. However, my great fear is that the best and brightest of those elder statesmen and stateswomen will take the money and run while what is left will be a long and winding ROAD to worse conditions.

GOP Don’t Care

Neil Heinen, ladies and gentlemen: 

 What is most disturbing is the image…the image of three Republican state legislators being escorted by security past protestors at the State Capitol Tuesday evening. And once again the nation watches news from Wisconsin and wonders what is going on in that state? It’s hard to imagine this is the impression Republicans are hoping will convince people to invest in Wisconsin.

But by once again ram-rodding divisive policy through the legislature and short-circuiting the public-hearing process, lawmakers have created an atmosphere of frustration and anger. Frankly the suggestion that the protests were a public safety risk is offensive. The largest risk is the risk to democracy by limiting the rights of citizens to be heard on laws that affect their lives. But embarrassing images and bad-faith governing are not things that concern this legislature any more.

But they used the words “credible threat!” Just like on CSI or something! It was all terrorist-speak-y!

Honestly, why should they care what they look like? There aren’t any electoral consequences for them. Mr. My New Boyfriend up there aside, most journalists have been treating the debate over the Right to Work (For Less) bill in Wisconsin as OH THIS IS ALL SO BORING DO WE HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT PROTESTS AGAIN?

Witness this, which Jude sends me because he worries my life is too calm and my blood pressure may be too low:


HARDY HAR HAR NOTHING MATTERS REALLY. Both sides are noisy but it’s all so lamesauce.

The national press is too busy jerking off about Walker 2016 to pay attention to the actual business of governing. So the Wisconsin GOP looks like a bunch of goddamn clowns. Who’s going to impose any kind of consequences for that?



Credible Threats to Wisconsin Republicans

Stupendous pussies run away from the possibility of dissent: 

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Republicans on the state Senate’s labor committee ended a public hearing on contentious right-to-work legislation early and sent it on to the full Senate Tuesday, enraging dozens of people who had been waiting all day to speak and sparking a demonstration in front of the Senate chamber.

The daylong hearing began at 10 a.m. Sen. Stephen Nass, a Whitewater Republican and the committee’s chairman, had planned for it to last until 7 p.m. But around 6:20 p.m. he announced he was ending the hearing due to what he called a “credible threat” that union members planned to disrupt the proceeding.

“We’re not going to take a chance,” Nass told the crowd.

We’re not going to take a chance that disruption may occur. Your right to comment on matters of concern to you can be erased by the words “credible threat” because union thugs, and protesters, and possibly hippies, are coming to say mean things to you, loudly.

This is the party that is going to put the state of Wisconsin back to work? Really? These fraidy cats?

Police escorted the three Republicans on the committee out of the room after the vote.

Because of a credible threat of being protested.


Right to Work in the Passive Voice

So Scotty’s doing what everybody knew he’d do:

This week, the right-to-work debate moves front and center in Wisconsin.

With Republicans in the Legislature aiming to fast-track a bill to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, they’re following a playbook that has been executed in other GOP-led states in the upper Midwest.

In early 2012, just before the Super Bowl came to Indianapolis, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a right-to-work law in Indiana.

Later that year, it was Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s turn to hand a stinging defeat to organized labor.

And now, it’s on to Wisconsin, where the labor battle has come full circle.

Walker, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has said he’ll sign a right-to-work bill once it is pushed through Legislature. Compared with the struggle over Act 10, when Walker was front-and-center in taking on public-sector unions, the governor is now in the background responding to lawmakers.

But Walker’s peekaboo style on right-to-work would have the same effect: unleashing a big blow to big labor.

Because it’s not enough to gut the University of Wisconsin system or screw over teachers or set state workers who pay taxes against other taxpayers or sell off the DNR. It’s not enough to slowly grind down everything that makes the place worth living in.

He’s got to dig deep and show the people who pay his presidential campaign’s bills that he can be just as big an asshole as everybody thinks he is.

What struck me in the story linked above, however, was that as usual things are just happening.

Unions are losing power.

Labor is declining.

All by itself:

“In some ways it’s the end of a very long decline of the strength of unions and a weakening of protections both at the federal and state level for unions,” said William P. Jones, a University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor.


Jones said unions have been losing power since the late 1970s, with a renewed push against organized labor in the wake of the 2007-’09 Great Recession.

It’s just, like, the times, man. Or something. Things happen. Unions just … lose.

Who wins?

A renewed push against organized labor. From whom?

Even with right-to-work laws implemented in Michigan and Indiana, and also surviving court challenges, unions haven’t gone away. But they have been hard pressed.

Who has pressed them?

Do you see what I’m getting at here? We talk about outsourcing and the decline of the middle class and the decimation of American manufacturing and the push against unions without ever using a subject in our sentences.

That way we can make it seem like nobody’s to blame. That way we can avoid “controversial” and/or opinionated or non-objective views of reality like:

Republicans, backed by wealthy business owners, attacked unions because those unions threatened their interests which are, in order: Making enough money to roll around in like Scrooge McDuck, making enough money to afford to buy Barbados, and making enough money to stack up all that money higher than Everest.

Those unions served as vehicles for political opposition to those interests, and so those unions had to go.

Why can’t we just say that? Because it makes Republicans like Scott Walker look like mean bullies who want to step on the American worker?

Better to just act like this all appeared out of thin air, conjured by the passage of time.


Sweeping up after Governor Deadeyes

I wonder what it’s like working on Gov. Scott Walker’s staff these days. It has to be a heady time to be with a man who suddenly rocketed to the front of the Republican party’s conga line for the presidential nomination. The guy survived three elections in four years, a series of protests comparable to the Vietnam War outrage and is now looked upon as a conservative media darling. He essentially controls the whole state, as the Republicans dominate the State Legislature and every Democratic gambit since his election in 2010 has failed to slow his roll.

He’s the son of a Baptist preacher who never finished college and is now meeting with the heads of state and chatting up his brand of political “boldness” across the pond.

And yet, part of me thinks that there’s an awful lot of scotch and ibuprofen being consumed at the state capitol these days, and not just by Walker’s adversaries.

Walker and his crew had to know that the $300 million cut to the university system would cause howls of pain. In the past, the cuts were buffered by trims to inefficiencies or reworking of standard practices. When the last set of financial whacks took place, Walker and the Republicans were able to undermine the outrage by “exposing” a supposed $1.6 billion slush fund that was just lying around. Of course, it wasn’t true, but when the UW administrators and PR officials fumbled about for a decent explanation, it looked like they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

This time is different in that the UW has done a better job of explaining the reality of those funds and pushing out on the line that this cut is tantamount to a 13 percent reduction in overall state funding. Add that to the public-affairs brilliance of Madison’s chancellor, Rebecca Blank, who has been meeting with support staff and maintenance crew to explain how this will kill them, and you get a much different picture this time around. You also have a few Republicans saying, “Hey, this isn’t going to be good…”

Walker’s staff has not only dealt with this shift from “Everybody Loves Scooter” to “Uh… Dude?” but also in his ability to bounce around from idea to idea on this whole UW System plan.

One of Walker’s greatest strengths as far as his constituents go is his ability to be absolute and rock-solid sure on things. He never gave an inch on Act 10 and he constantly paints things in perfect black/white contrast so even the most feeble-minded of his followers can see it. We have a “taker vs. taxpayer” argument that works well. We have an “Unintimidated” governor who is standing strong among the wafflers. We have an “Act 10 for the UW system” pitch that pits rich professors who don’t work for shit against people with three and four jobs.

Those dichotomies and absolutist strategies have boded well for him in racing to the front of the line for president. However, for the past several weeks, he keeps throwing out random ideas about the UW cuts that have forced his staffers to try to reconfigure the message while still telling people who love the “straightforward” Walker that this is EXACTLY what he had in mind all along.

First was the “you’ll have more flexibility, which means you can solve all these problems you say we are giving you,” argument.

Then, when it was clear the flexibility couldn’t solve the problem, he noted that the universities didn’t have to take the $150 million bite out of each term, meaning they could push all this off to the second year of the budget and pray for a lottery win or something.

Then, when the university folks explained that a huge cut now for freedom later wouldn’t work, he had his staffers put out the word that he could easily see flexibility and such coming earlier, so “There’s nothing to see here…”

After that, people in his own party became skittish that the UW would jack tuition through the stratosphere if they had any freedom, Walker floated the idea of giving people freedom but putting a cap on tuition, the only “freedom” that actually would actually create additional revenue. In addition, the University folk pushed back with a “Here we go again” argument about Walker and his horse-trading.

At each point, the PR arm of the Walker campaign has gone into “bob and weave” mode while trying to Jedi-mind-trick people into thinking this isn’t abnormal.

If Walker wins the presidential nod for the Republicans, this isn’t going to be a huge problem for him. He basically gets to fart in the elevator that is the state of Wisconsin and walk out at the penthouse, leaving the rest of us to live with the stink as we go all the way back down to the lobby. However, if he swings and misses to represent the Elephant Party, he then has to actually deal with the people he screwed to get this situation into shape.

For his staff, however, all they can do is walk behind the elephant and quickly sweep away whatever randomly falls out, hoping that no one notices or that they don’t get hit by it.

In Which a Badger Mauls Walker



John Sharpless, a former Republican candidate for Congress and who teaches history at UW, voiced his frustration on Friday over the belief that professors aren’t working hard enough. He said he arrives no later than 9 a.m. and leaves no earlier than 5 p.m.  During that time, he said he’s either teaching, preparing lectures, doing research, attending required committee meetings, advising students and managing teaching assistants. Sharpless added that he often spends his evenings reading and grading papers.

“None of this seems like work to a guy like Walker because he lives a different life,” he said.  “And I’m not going to make fun of what he does.  I’m sure being a governor is a lot of work.  He has to spend a lot of time in Iowa and South Carolina and North Carolina and courting other Republican big-wigs.  That taxes the man horribly.”

Yeah, Scotty’s life is rough. I mean, generally the people who work hard are too busy, you know, working hard to play the Battle of the Workaholics expansion of the Suffering Olympics. If Walker wants to mouth off about how tough it is to live life on the economic edge because of other people’s luxury, though, he might want to ease off vacationing in caucus states.


Autonomy’s Just Another Word for “Fuck You Wisconsin.” Love, Scott Walker

I would ask if he hasn’t done enough damage but obviously not: 

The University of Wisconsin System will be given more autonomy, while having its state funding slashed by 13 percent over the next two years, under the budget Gov. Scott Walker will submit to the Legislature next week.

Walker released details of his budget plan as it affects the UW System to The Associated Press on Monday ahead of a public announcement on Tuesday.

“It will make the University of Wisconsin more efficient, more effective and ultimately more accountable,” Walker said.

The State Journal first reported this month that Walker was considering giving the System more autonomy, possibly accompanied by budget cuts. Walker and System president Ray Cross confirmed the discussions last week.

The state is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall for the two-year budget that begins July 1.

WELL WHOSE FUCKING FAULT IS THAT? He created a crisis and is using that crisis to justify the cuts.

They no longer want to drown government in the bathtub. Now they want to draw and quarter it and spread its entrails to the four corners of the earth while its parents watch.


Is Scott Walker the new George W. Bush?

A uniter, not a divider! 

 “What do Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada all have in common?” he said to me after the Dairy Breakfast. “Those are all battleground states that Barack Obama won in 2012—and they also have Republican governors. So why are state Republican leaders connecting with voters in a way that the national party isn’t?” Walker repeated his litany of self-assigned virtues: He and his fellow GOP governors were plainspoken optimists who made the rounds. “Not that any Republican is necessarily going to win the majority among women, younger voters, or ethnic minorities,” he conceded. “But we can do a lot better. I go to places where you’d never dream of seeing Mitt Romney or John McCain.”

The irony of that last statement was surely unintended: In the three breakfasts we had been to that morning, I had seen exactly as many adult African-Americans and Latinos as Confederate flags—namely, one of each. Instead, this was a key slice of Scott Walker country, populated by thousands of white male rural voters. It takes more than them to win; and Walker, whose statewide approval rating has stayed unwaveringly in the neighborhood of 49 over the past two years, has consistently managed to unite a winning coalition even while advocating divisive policies. For a national Republican Party glumly pondering its shrinking demographics, Scott Walker would seem to be offering good news: Fire up the base, pick off a healthy share of independents, and you can continue to grind out victories for years to come. Republicans didn’t necessarily have to persuade voters they were right, Walker maintained—and that had been the case, he said, going back to his very first win, for State Assembly back in 1993: “The bottom line is I was pretty committed to my ideals, and that’s why people elected me. Not necessarily because they were ideologically in line with me, but because people have become cynical about politicians, and they want somebody who actually stands for something.”

Only until all those fucking fossils die off. Then you’re screwed. So what Walker is offering the Republican party is a chance to do more of the same for about five to ten more years. Maybe that’s enough for them. Maybe that’s all they want is power TOMORROW, and not power forever.

Maybe that’s what Bush taught them, that having a Republican majority isn’t worth it to them if they have to be nice to women, gays and minorities at their parties. Maybe basic politeness, an unwillingness to actually build physical internment camps, is a bridge too far, even if it would get them more votes for more years.

Maybe they’d just rather be mean and small and angry and put-upon and have all their problems be the fault of some black people somewhere buying the wrong kind of cereal with food stamps. Maybe that’s just more fun.


Cardinal Columns: Almost… Almost… Almost…

About six months after the Fond du Lac school district implemented a “censor them all, let God sort them out” policy regarding its student media, it appears the board of education has decided to act right.

According to at least two sources, the board met in a “workshop” earlier in the week and agreed in principle to a document that declares the publications of Fond du Lac High School to be public forums. This will essentially provide First Amendment protection to all of the media at the school, including the award-winning Cardinal Columns news magazine and Fondy Today, the school’s broadcast operation.

The policy is a one-year trial, with a few strings that could be problematic. Although the board did not include contingencies for the principal or any other administrator to approve of content prior to publication, it put in place a similar approval contingency on the adviser:

“Consistent with applicable law, the advisor may refuse to publish, display or post material that in his/her professional judgement (sic) is obscene, vulgar, profane, libelous, inconsistent with the educational goals of the District, is reasonably forecasted (sic) to disrupt the educational environment, advocates the use of drugs or alcohol, violates the District’s non-discrimination or other policies, violates the rights of others, violates any applicable state or federal law, or is unsuitable for its potential audience.”

It’s one of those things that could be horribly applied if the wrong person is placed in this role. That said, the read I get of the current adviser (Matt Smith) tells me the publication won’t have to worry much about the potential for adviser overreach. Still, keeping that one little spot in there could create legal liability for the district if something goes south on a published piece. That said, it’s a heck of a lot better than it was.

The board still has to approve the policy at an upcoming meeting, but their general meetings tend to be coronations and blessings more than actual public debate. This leads me to remain hopeful that this policy is on final approach to approval and that the kids will get what they have fought so hard for: The right to do good work in a censorship-free environment.

The bigger thing is that with a one-year trial, here are two concerns that need to be clearly highlighted:

First, knowing you are under the hammer tends to lead to a chilling effect. If you know you only have one shot to prove yourself, you’re going to be on your best behavior, sure, but you’re also going to be a little gun-shy. This is why it’s a lot easier to be yourself after 40 years of marriage than after 40 minutes of a first date. It’s that sense of trying to be more perfect than you actually are.

I have a sense that the kids are going to continue to do good work, but if there’s a story, a topic, a headline or whatever that looks a tad suspect, they might decide, “Hey, tie goes to the runner. Let’s let this be for now.” My hope is that they won’t and that they will remain just as fearless as they have been to get themselves to this point in the first place. However, I know my own behavior is representative of the same kind of chilling: When a cop pulls me over for going too fast, I spend the next six months going about 0.1 miles under the speed limit everywhere. Just in case.

Second, the board has to have faith. Several members have publicly expressed their concerns about the publication, how the kids aren’t “real journalists” and how they need “adult oversight.” I won’t bother to rehash all of these petty arguments, but I will say that they need to let go of this and let the kids figure things out as they go. If you want to give them a chance to learn, you can’t freak out every time something happens and try to grab control back. If they live in fear that you’re going to drop a hammer on them the instant you don’t like something, they’re going to make ten times more mistakes than if you left them alone. Don’t look at every iffy headline or controversial topic as a chance to freak out. Let the stuff run its course and see where it really goes.

Overall, however, this appears to be a really good step in the best possible direction. It took guts for this board to do this, as everyone was watching and there’s always a fear that if the board “gives in,” it could pave a path to hell. Still, as the board is watching the kids, everyone will be watching the board.

It should make for a very interesting school year.