Boots & Sabers

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Tag: Column

Wisconsin needs fair funding for government schools

Here is my full column that ran earlier in the week in the Washington County Daily News.

There is another wave of borrowed money gushing out of Washington. The latest round of purposefully wasteful spending ushered in by Democrats includes over $2.2 billion for Wisconsin’s government schools. The distribution of these funds illustrates the folly of government and offers state lawmakers an opportunity to prove that they are smarter and fairer than those in Washington.

 

The American Rescue Plan Act is the official name for the stimulus bill that passed in March without a single Republican vote. The bill transfers our grandchildren’s wealth into our own pockets in a variety of ways including direct payments to current citizens, more welfare, and, of course, mountains of money for state and local governments.

 

The law was sold to the American citizens as vitally important to repair the economic damage done by the pandemic and backfill the budgets of state and local governments for expenses related to the pandemic. When the Democrats wrote the bill, however, the distribution mechanisms they included bear very little relationship to the pandemic. Stimulus checks are going to prisoners and people who do not need it. Billions of dollars are being spent to incentivize unemployment. And, of course, money sent to governments irrespective of how they handled the pandemic.

 

In the case of Wisconsin’s schools, federal law dictates that 90% of the money being sent to local government school districts must be distributed according to the same formula used to distribute Title 1 Part A funds. Title 1 Part A funds are distributed according to the number of low-income students in each district. In other words, the distribution of the so-called “rescue plan” money has absolutely no relationship to the pandemic. It is being distributed based on the rules from a law passed 56 years ago.

 

The actual numbers illustrate the magnitude of the disconnect. For example, the Milwaukee Public School District is to receive a whopping $798 million, or $11,242 per student. That is nearly an entire year’s budget coming in a single windfall for the district. Meanwhile, the neighboring Waukesha Public School District, for example, is receiving about $17 million, or $1,366 per student.

 

These two school districts had very different responses to the pandemic. The Waukesha district has been providing some form of in-person instruction since October — well after the evidence was clear that it could be done safely. Meanwhile, Milwaukee Public Schools remain closed with a meager plan to partially open in the waning days of the school year.

 

It is markedly unfair that the Milwaukee Public Schools are being rewarded with a windfall for locking out their students for over a year while so many other districts, like Waukesha, are given crumbs despite working hard to educate kids. Which district incurred more real cost to educate during a pandemic? Which district chose to educate instead of agitate?

 

As the Legislature crafts the next state budget, they must consider the federal funds just allocated to school districts and other local governments. They must begin with the recognition that it is utterly implausible that government school districts throughout the state suffered an aggregate $2.2 billion budget deficit caused by the pandemic. The federal dollars being issued are far in excess of any actual damages suffered and some districts are able to use their federal money to fund their wish lists.

 

Beyond the total budget amount, the nonsensical way in which federal funds were allocated invites the Legislature to reallocate state funding to try to make it fairer. For example, the state budget could cut $500 million from the Milwaukee Public Schools and use the money to fund rural and suburban districts throughout the state. Those districts could then fund initiatives like broadband for rural students, technology upgrades, tutors to help kids who have fallen behind with distance learning, and mental health services. Even after reallocating $500 million from the Milwaukee public school district, they have almost $300 million in surplus federal funds to spend in addition to their normal budget.

 

State lawmakers have a real opportunity to ensure fairness in funding for all of Wisconsin’s government schools. This is not a time to merely pour money through the same budgetary formulas. This is a time to fight for the education of all of Wisconsin’s kids.

Wisconsin needs fair funding for government schools

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

In the case of Wisconsin’s schools, federal law dictates that 90% of the money being sent to local government school districts must be distributed according to the same formula used to distribute Title 1 Part A funds. Title 1 Part A funds are distributed according to the number of low-income students in each district. In other words, the distribution of the so-called “rescue plan” money has absolutely no relationship to the pandemic. It is being distributed based on the rules from a law passed 56 years ago.

 

The actual numbers illustrate the magnitude of the disconnect. For example, the Milwaukee Public School District is to receive a whopping $798 million, or $11,242 per student. That is nearly an entire year’s budget coming in a single windfall for the district. Meanwhile, the neighboring Waukesha Public School District, for example, is receiving about $17 million, or $1,366 per student.

 

These two school districts had very different responses to the pandemic. The Waukesha district has been providing some form of in-person instruction since October — well after the evidence was clear that it could be done safely. Meanwhile, Milwaukee Public Schools remain closed with a meager plan to partially open in the waning days of the school year.

 

It is markedly unfair that the Milwaukee Public Schools are being rewarded with a windfall for locking out their students for over a year while so many other districts, like Waukesha, are given crumbs despite working hard to educate kids. 

 

[…]

 

As the Legislature crafts the next state budget, they must consider the federal funds just allocated to school districts and other local governments. They must begin with the recognition that it is utterly implausible that government school districts throughout the state suffered an aggregate $2.2 billion budget deficit caused by the pandemic. The federal dollars being issued are far in excess of any actual damages suffered and some districts are able to use their federal money to fund their wish lists.

 

Beyond the total budget amount, the nonsensical way in which federal funds were allocated invites the Legislature to reallocate state funding to try to make it fairer. For example, the state budget could cut $500 million from the Milwaukee Public Schools and use the money to fund rural and suburban districts throughout the state. Those districts could then fund initiatives like broadband for rural students, technology upgrades, tutors to help kids who have fallen behind with distance learning, and mental health services. Even after reallocating $500 million from the Milwaukee public school district, they have almost $300 million in surplus federal funds to spend in addition to their normal budget.

Evers’ abuse of power stopped by state Supreme Court

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s a part:

The court acted with good reason, for if a governor were permitted to rule in a permanent state of emergency, then the state Constitution is meaningless, and elections no longer matter. Governor Evers disagreed with the policy decisions of the Legislature, so he resorted to continually reissuing emergency declarations to enact his policy choices. In this case, Governor Evers was acting from behind the mask of compassion and claiming that only he knows the “science” that will save us all.

 

Despots, however, never rise to power by telling the people that they will strip them of their civil liberties and crush them under the boot of oppression. Despots always rise to power with the promise to protect the people from something like a foreign aggressor, internal strife, or, in this case, a disease. Despots claim that normal government is not sufficient to respond to this unprecedented apocalyptic crisis, so normal government must be suspended in favor of the nimble and extensive power of autocratic rule.

 

[…]

 

First, the Supreme Court waited far too long to issue its ruling. The original petition happened on October 15, 2020, and oral arguments were heard on November 16, 2020. The court waited until March 31, 2021 to issue its ruling. That is almost half a year between the petition of the court and the court’s ruling. In a case in which the state Constitution has been suspended while a rogue governor issues orders from behind a permanent state of emergency, the people of Wisconsin have a right to expect more expeditious action from their elected Supreme Court justices. They are elected to make rulings on important issues facing the state and their sloth smacks of snobbery.

 

Second, the ruling was decided by a single vote with four justices voting in the majority and three in the minority. The law is crystal clear in this case and yet three of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court justices supported the governor being able to suspend normal government forever by continually issuing emergency declarations. Wisconsin is on the razor’s edge of slipping into autocracy with almost half the court cheering for it. That should keep every freedom-loving Wisconsinite up at night.

Conservatives must remain vigilant in local elections

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

April 6 offers all legal adult Wisconsinites another opportunity to head to the polls to choose who will control thousands of school boards, city councils, courtrooms, county boards, and other important local government bodies. These elections are always important, but the performance of government during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important they are. From our schools to our local health officials, we have seen just how incompetent, authoritarian, and heroic they can be.

 

The importance of local elections has not been lost on the state’s liberals and big-government advocates. During the Walker era, when the political left was ineffectual at the state level, they began a concerted effort to recruit candidates for local elections. There efforts have paid off all over Wisconsin with left-leaning candidates getting elected even in some of the most conservative parts of the state.

 

There is nothing wrong with recruiting, organizing, training, encouraging, and funding local candidates. It is not a conspiracy or anything untoward. In fact, it is incredibly smart and laudable. Not only have the liberals managed to advance their ideology throughout Wisconsin, but they have also created a farm league of candidates to run for state or national office.

 

Conservatives are behind the game. There have been pockets local organization, but nothing on the scale of liberals. Without conservative organizations vetting candidates, conservative voters need be extra careful when voting.

 

[…]

 

Conservatives throughout the state must follow the liberals’ lead and begin recruiting, training, encouraging, and funding fellow conservatives to run for local offices. Winning elections does not happen by accident. It happens after a lot of work. The work does not end after the election. Conservatives must then support conservative elected leaders when they govern according to their convictions.

 

Work. Determination. Grit. There is no other path to success. Get to work, conservatives. Local government matters.

Kids need state superintendent who values them more than the unions

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week.

The COVID-19 pandemic and our policy responses to it will have long-lasting effects throughout our society. Perhaps none will feel those impacts more severely than the children who were abandoned by our government-educational complex. On April 6, Wisconsin’s voters will choose the next superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction and the choice could not be clearer.

 

The two candidates to lead the DPI are similar in many respects. Both candidates have spent their careers progressing through schools to leadership positions. Both candidates are highly educated with doctorates in educational leadership. Both candidates are lifelong Democrats and believe that many of the answers to the challenges facing education can be solved with more taxpayer money.

 

While the two candidates are similar in many respects, it is where they differ that makes Deb Kerr the best choice for our children.

 

The most pressing issue confronting education right now is the fact that too many government school districts are refusing to return to in-person education despite the overwhelming evidence that it can be done safely. Many schools around the world have remained open throughout the pandemic or only closed for a short time without significant issues. The evidence is clear that COVID-19 is not a significant threat to the vast majority of those in schools — students and staff. Despite this clear evidence, some government school districts refuse to fully open under withering fire from the teachers and their unions. The damage to our kids’ education, mental health, and futures cannot be understated.

 

On this issue, Dr. Deb Kerr has made it clear that all government schools should reopen immediately. Her opponent, Dr. Jill Underly, is toeing the line of the state teachers union (which has endorsed her and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into supporting her) in throwing up multiple conditions that must be met before those schools can open. Kerr is following the science and prioritizing kids’ lives and futures. Underly is determined to use the crisis as a political wedge to gain more concessions for the unions.

 

The second paramount issue on which the candidates differ is on school choice. Here again, Kerr is prioritizing children and their futures while Underly is defending the union’s priorities.

 

The pandemic pulled back the mask of our state’s education infrastructure to reveal some glaring inequities. Some of the government schools stepped up and responded heroically with a swift and thoughtful shift to virtual learning and an equally swift move back to hybrid and in-person education when the evidence supported it. Other government schools — particularly some of the state’s largest districts that serve economically disadvantaged communities — utterly failed at virtual education and are still resisting a return to in-person education.

 

The fact that some schools performed better than others through the pandemic is manifest. The powerlessness of some parents to make get their kids into a school that is actually providing an education is a calamity. Some families were able to support their children’s education throughout the pandemic with relative ease. They have the time and money to support a virtual learning environment or move their children to a private or parochial school that is providing a higher-quality education.

 

Many families, however, are not able to fill the gap left by their failing schools or have the means to send their children to a successful school. When schools have utterly failed at virtual education and refuse to reopen their doors, the parents are left with few choices other than to watch their children slip further into the achievement gap as kids in other districts thrive. This is precisely the problem that school choice helps remedy. School choice provides the financial means for all families to choose the best educational option for their children, whether it be the local government school or a private option. School choice prioritizes children and education over propping up failed government institutions. Deb Kerr is a vocal supporter of school choice and has worked outside of the government school system. While she supports government schools as a vitally important part of our educational system, she recognizes that families need choices when that system fails. Rich families have always had choices. School choice enables poorer families to have the same options.

 

Jill Underly is a vocal opponent of school choice. She has stated unequivocally that she opposes school choice and would advocate for more regulations of the private schools that participate. Even though Underly chose to send her own children to a local parochial school to avoid an underperforming government school, she would deny that choice to families of lesser financial means.

 

The pandemic is groaning to an end, but it has highlighted some stark gaps in our government school system. Deb Kerr is the best candidate to begin to close some of those gaps.

Kids need state superintendent who values them more than the unions

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

Despite this clear evidence, some government school districts refuse to fully open under withering fire from the teachers and their unions. The damage to our kids’ education, mental health, and futures cannot be understated.

 

On this issue, Dr. Deb Kerr has made it clear that all government schools should reopen immediately. Her opponent, Dr. Jill Underly, is toeing the line of the state teachers union (which has endorsed her and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into supporting her) in throwing up multiple conditions that must be met before those schools can open. Kerr is following the science and prioritizing kids’ lives and futures. Underly is determined to use the crisis as a political wedge to gain more concessions for the unions.

 

The second paramount issue on which the candidates differ is on school choice. Here again, Kerr is prioritizing children and their futures while Underly is defending the union’s priorities.

 

The pandemic pulled back the mask of our state’s education infrastructure to reveal some glaring inequities. Some of the government schools stepped up and responded heroically with a swift and thoughtful shift to virtual learning and an equally swift move back to hybrid and in-person education when the evidence supported it. Other government schools — particularly some of the state’s largest districts that serve economically disadvantaged communities — utterly failed at virtual education and are still resisting a return to in-person education.

 

[…]

 

The pandemic is groaning to an end, but it has highlighted some stark gaps in our government school system. Deb Kerr is the best candidate to begin to close some of those gaps.

On checks and balances

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I continue with my ruminations on remedial Enlightenment thought with a current example of where it should apply. Here’s a part:

The very need for government is rooted in the understanding that humans are naturally flawed and need to cede individual power to a collective in order to secure the individual liberties of all. While that seems counterintuitive, the tragic arc of human experience proves the point. But ceding power to a central authority creates a different threat to individual liberties: concentrated power.

 

Because humans are flawed, they will naturally seek to concentrate power for their own purposes. Even while such efforts to concentrate power may be justified in the name of some higher good, the evolution of concentrated power is always the same. The more power is concentrated, the more it is used to quash the individual liberties of others for the benefit of the few, or the one. Without concentrated power, even the most tyrannical among us is impotent. With concentrated power, even the well-meaning can slide into tyranny.

 

Understanding the nature of power in the hands of humans, our Founders structured our government with the express purpose of dividing the collective power of the people into as many parts as possible and using the personal interests and ambitions of each individual to check the others. The goal of dividing power is not that it will enhance the greater good, but that it will restrain the bad. As Federalist 51 explains, “the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other; that the private interest of every individual, may be a centinel over the public rights.”

 

To bring this concept into 2021, we turn to the current controversy over the distribution of COVID-19 relief money being distributed to states by the federal government. In the most recent distribution of our great-grandchildren’s money, the state of Wisconsin expects to receive about $3.206 billion for the conveniently elastic purpose of “COVID relief.”

 

What the pandemic taught us about prioritizing education

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.

The COVID-19 pandemic and our collectively flawed public policy response to it have wrought incalculable harm on our nation, state, and communities. One of the top three consequences that we will be feeling for decades to come is the assault on our children’s education. The early indicators are that many of our children have lost a year or more of their educations with marginal kids being impacted the most. It will take many years to recover as this class of kids moves through the rest of their education and many of them will feel the impact well into adulthood. We know the problem. What are we going to do about it?

 

We have learned a lot about the state of our education system during this pandemic. Many people like to claim that education is a priority. The varied responses to the pandemic revealed who really believes that it is a priority. When the pandemic first emerged with cataclysmic projections a year ago, all schools rightfully sent kids home and scrambled to do the best they could. Within a few months, however, we already knew much more about the virus, the populations at most risk, and how to mitigate the spread. With this knowledge, some schools — particularly private schools, but some government schools — began opening their doors again with hybrid and in-person models. Meanwhile, all schools increased their technological capability to deliver online learning. It is worth noting that we have not seen any significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations or deaths from schools that opened for in-person learning. As we look to the end of the 2020-2021 school year and the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, what are we going to do to get kids caught up? Part of the solution is for the state to allow more flexibility for local districts. For example, under the current law, government school are not permitted to open before Sept 1. This is a long-established accommodation to Wisconsin’s summer industries that rely on the young labor force and families continuing the time-honored summer holiday tradition.

 

Wisconsin should lift this restriction and allow government schools to open early. This impacts private schools too. While private schools can already open any time they choose, their access to constitutionally required school bussing is tied to the schedule of the local government schools. By opening more days for schools to operate, it provides schools with more flexibility for scheduling options to accommodate more students.

 

Wisconsin could go one step further and enable government schools to move to year-round school too. If education is important to us, then we must treat it as a continual effort and not one relegated to convenient seasons.

 

With that flexibility must come more accountability. One of the ways we show what is important to us is by where we spend our money. We have seen a great variance in the response by government school districts with some of them utterly abandoning our children. Given what we know about the virus today and the experience with schools that have
been open all year, taxpayers should question whether they should continue to fund schools that remain closed to in-person learning. Teachers are receiving vaccines today and the expectation is that every teacher who wants it will be vaccinated within the next month. There is no rational reason for schools to remain closed.

 

If we truly care about education, then we must be willing to put our money where our mouths are and defund schools that refuse to teach our children. In the same thought, we must be willing to shift funds to the schools are, and have been, faithfully educating our kids throughout this pandemic. Throwing money into schools that have been failing our kids is not caring about education. Funding failure is an affront to education.

 

Irrespective of the public policy choices we make, the primary educators of any child remain their parents. Every parent should take a long, hard look at their kids’ school and the education their kids have been receiving. Is it good? Has the school been holding up their end of the bargain in the educational partnership? Have the kids been successful? If not, why not? And if not, why would you continue to send your kids there? Prioritizing education starts at home.

What the pandemic taught us about prioritizing education

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

One of the ways we show what is important to us is by where we spend our money. We have seen a great variance in the response by government school districts with some of them utterly abandoning our children. Given what we know about the virus today and the experience with schools that have been open all year, taxpayers should question whether they should continue to fund schools that remain closed to in-person learning. Teachers are receiving vaccines today and the expectation is that every teacher who wants it will be vaccinated within the next month. There is no rational reason for schools to remain closed.

 

If we truly care about education, then we must be willing to put our money where our mouths are and defund schools that refuse to teach our children. In the same thought, we must be willing to shift funds to the schools are, and have been, faithfully educating our kids throughout this pandemic. Throwing money into schools that have been failing our kids is not caring about education. Funding failure is an affront to education.

 

Irrespective of the public policy choices we make, the primary educators of any child remain their parents. Every parent should take a long, hard look at their kids’ school and the education their kids have been receiving. Is it good? Has the school been holding up their end of the bargain in the educational partnership? Have the kids been successful? If not, why not? And if not, why would you continue to send your kids there? Prioritizing education starts at home.

Ranked choice voting should be the last choice

Here is my full column on Ranked Choice Voting that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier in the week.

A bipartisan handful of Wisconsin legislators have introduced a bill to implement a ranked-choice voting (RCV) system for the elections of federal legislative offices. RCV is also referred to as “instant runoff” or “final five,” but irrespective of what one calls it, it is bad policy that contorts our electoral process and obfuscates the will of the governed.

 

Under an RCV scheme, partisan primaries are abandoned in favor of a primary in which the top five candidates advance to the general election. For the general election, voters rank the five candidates in order of preference starting with their most favored candidate and ending with their least favored candidate.

 

When the ballots are counted, if no single candidate has a majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is removed from consideration and that candidate’s voters’ second choices are redistributed among the remaining candidates. If there is still not a candidate with a majority, then the next candidate with the fewest votes is removed and the votes redistributed again. The process continues until a candidate has a majority of the remaining votes and is declared the winner. Complicated, eh? That is the point. This complicated process creates several problems. First, it is confusing to voters. This is the reason cited by two Democratic governors of California when they vetoed attempts to expand RCV in their state. No longer does a voter simply have to choose the candidate that they support. Instead, they must study the candidates and rank them in order of preference to make an informed ranking. To work correctly, RCV requires much more effort on behalf of the voters. This leads to the second flaw with RCV. When implemented in other states, there is a large degree of ballot fatigue. Voters walk into the voting booth knowing who their top candidate is and maybe their second choice, but after that, they are fairly indifferent. The result is that many voters only fill out their top choice, or maybe top two choices, and leave the rest blank. When the ballots are taken to be counted and candidates are eliminated from consideration, some voters are also eliminated. Remember that in this system, the winner is the candidate who has a majority of the remaining ballots — not of all the ballots cast.

 

The third flaw with RCV is that is requires voters to engage in intricate game theory instead of just voting for their favorite candidate. Imagine that your favored candidate is third in the polls and your least favorite candidate is leading. You might decide to cast your first choice for the second-place candidate in the hopes to prevent the leading candidate from gaining a clear majority and that the fifth-place candidates voters’ second choices will fall to your favored candidate. Is this really how we want to think about elections?

 

The biggest problem with RCV, however, is not about the actual mechanics of the voting process. It is that the voters are denied the opportunity to make a clear choice. Under our current voting system where the candidate with the most votes wins, each candidate attempts to clearly communicate his or her experience and position on the issues to draw a distinction with their opponents. Sometimes that communication is strident, but the voters generally cast their ballots knowing where each candidate stands.

 

With RCV, candidates are not just campaigning to be the voters’ first choice, but their second or third choice. The result is a watering down of the rhetoric and muddling of the issues where candidates are not campaigning to be the one that most people support, but the one that most people can live with. If we want a nation run by mediocre drones that people do not like but can tolerate, RCV is the way to get it.

 

The proponents of ranked-choice voting see it as a means to reduce the rancor that we see in our politics today. What they seem to forget is that acrimony, forceful rhetoric, and gridlock are not a bug in our political system. It is a feature. It shows that it is working. After all, we have imbued these politicians with the power to restrict our rights and confiscate our property. We do not want them to do that lightly where submissive agreement is a greater priority than good public policy. The process should be difficult and discordant opinions should be forcefully expressed.

 

We are a nation with an endless spectrum of political philosophies and social values. In a representative government, we want all of those philosophies and values to be vehemently advocated in the public square so that they are included in the creation of public policy. Ranked-choice voting serves to silence the philosophical diversity that makes our nation stronger.

Ranked choice voting should be the last choice

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

A bipartisan handful of Wisconsin legislators have introduced a bill to implement a ranked-choice voting (RCV) system for the elections of federal legislative offices. RCV is also referred to as “instant runoff” or “final five,” but irrespective of what one calls it, it is bad policy that contorts our electoral process and obfuscates the will of the governed.

[…]

The proponents of ranked-choice voting see it as a means to reduce the rancor that we see in our politics today. What they seem to forget is that acrimony, forceful rhetoric, and gridlock are not a bug in our political system. It is a feature. It shows that it is working. After all, we have imbued these politicians with the power to restrict our rights and confiscate our property. We do not want them to do that lightly where submissive agreement is a greater priority than good public policy. The process should be difficult and discordant opinions should be forcefully expressed.

 

We are a nation with an endless spectrum of political philosophies and social values. In a representative government, we want all of those philosophies and values to be vehemently advocated in the public square so that they are included in the creation of public policy. Ranked-choice voting serves to silence the philosophical diversity that makes our nation stronger.

On the ideal kind of government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I’m dwelling again in rudimentary Enlightenment thought. Here’s a part. Enjoy!

We see a form of pure democracy today in Wisconsin’s towns, where adult citizens can attend town meetings and vote on all matters. Democracy works in small environments where people can easily access the seat of government. In the case of Wisconsin’s towns, they also operate with very limited authority within the guardrails set by the state government. When the span of a particular government increases to millions of citizens, a pure democracy becomes impossible and we must find another form of proxy government.

 

Or do we? When our national and state constitutions were written, pure democracy was impractical because the citizens could not easily travel to the capital to cast their votes on important issues. That need for travel is not needed today. In a world where we could leverage blockchain technology to securely authenticate each unique citizen, would it not be possible to shutter the legislature and just have the citizens vote on bills? Why do we need representatives?

 

Yes, it is possible today to have a pure democracy, but while technology evolves quickly, human nature moves much more slowly. As Rousseau quipped, “If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men.” The problem with pure democracy is not a logistical one. Democracy is like a gang of burglars deciding which house to rob. The problem with democracy is that it permits the tyranny of a majority and rights are crushed at the whims of the mob. Our nation has seen all too recently how little mobs care for individual liberties.

 

 

Seven candidates vie to lead DPI

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Check it out!

The February primary is upon us. The only race with significant statewide implications is the seven-way primary for superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction. Two of the seven candidates will go on to compete in the general election on April 6.

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our government schools abandoned education and inflicted true harm on children and families that will be felt for years. That harm is being disproportionally felt by those at the lower end of the economic spectrum and is dramatically increasing the education gap in several areas. The pandemic laid bare the cynical and self-serving behavior of many of those in the government school-industrial complex. This hard-learned lesson makes it even more disappointing that conservatives and Republicans once again failed to field a pro-education candidate to lead the DPI.

 

For years, conservatives and Republicans have ceded the DPI to the leftist government education establishment. The state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, would pick their candidate and that candidate would be placed on top of the state education system to do their bidding. The result has been a steady decline in performance accompanied by equally steady spending increases. The last time an actual conservative ran for superintendent of the DPI was in 2013, when former assemblyman Don Pridemore ran. Wisconsin’s right establishment, then at the apex of their political power after defeating the attempt to recall Governor Scott Walker, chose to stand aside and let WEAC’s puppet skate to re-election. That puppet later used his position as a platform to run for governor. One could argue that had Wisconsin’s right put up a fight in 2013, we would not be suffering under the despotism of Governor Tony Evers today.

 

The seven candidates running this year are all cut from a similar cloth. They all come from the government education establishment. They all advocate for more taxpayer spending even as enrollment declines. They have all spent time in the classroom and all but one of them has been in school administration. Voters can hardly be blamed for having difficulty telling them apart. They all represent points on a very limited ideological spectrum.

 

In light of the pandemic, there are two issues that matter more than any other because they tell us how the candidate views education and the role of government. The first issue is whether every student should be able to return to full time in-person education. The science is clear on this issue. With nominal effort to mitigate the spread of COVID19, it is safe to return to in-person education at all levels. Almost all private and some government schools have done so in Wisconsin with virtually no issues. Other states have completely returned to in-person education and the children are thriving. School staff members and students who are in a higher-risk category can make their own decisions for their safety, but there is no reason not to immediately return to full in-person instruction.

 

Meanwhile, the consequences of not allowing children to return to in-person education are manifest. Student achievement, mental health, socialization, and food security are all suffering by schools refusing to open their doors. Keeping schools closed is doing far more harm than good.

 

Any candidate who does not support the immediate opening of schools is ignoring the science. They are prioritizing the irrational fears or cynical shakedown of the staff over the health, safety, and education of the children. They are also telling voters that they think that schools exist for the benefit of the staff — not the kids.

 

The second issue is how the candidates stand on school choice. Their position on this issue tells the voters whether they think that taxpayers should be supporting education or just the government school establishment irrespective of whether they are actually providing an education.

 

During the pandemic, families with means had choices. If their school closed or was failing to provide viable virtual options, families of means could move their kids to a private school, hire tutors, home-school, or build learning pods with neighbors. They could afford the computers, internet access, and quiet learning environments to make virtual learning viable. But many families, perhaps most families, did not have these options. They were stuck with whatever their local government school provided and many of those government schools utterly abandoned those families.

 

If the purpose of the taxpayers funding education is to provide an education, then our money should go to schools that are actually providing an education. If taxpayers are paying for schools that remain closed, then they are not actually funding education at all. We are simply shoveling money into the pockets of government employees while the kids are discarded. School choice gives the power of educational choice to all families.

 

Of the seven candidates running to lead the DPI, only two of them have expressed views that even come close to the right side of either of these issues — Shandowlyon Hendricks- Williams and Deb Kerr. If either or both of them make it to the general election, let us hope that they are more forceful in advocating for school choice and the immediate opening of schools. Wisconsin’s kids deserve it.

On the need for government

Here is my full column that ran earlier in the week in the Washington County Daily News.

As power continues to drift toward centralization in both Madison and Washington, the reader will forgive the writer for briefly waxing philosophic before wading back into the mire of contemporary politics. What is, after all, the purpose of our civic arrangement? Why do we even have government? While the strictures of this column are too constraining for a full examination, we can, at least, begin to sketch an outline.

 

Born into what John Locke called a “state of nature,” all people are endowed with intrinsic rights that are part of our human condition. Among those rights, as our Declaration of Independence points out are the rights of, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While a complete catalog of our natural rights is innumerable, they are best encapsulated within the happy bubble of “liberty,” assuming that we are alive to exercise it.

 

Liberty in one’s person is the freedom to think and act according to one’s own will and direction without being constrained by any other person. Liberty is spontaneous thoughts and actions without having to ask anyone’s permission. It is the inherent ability to direct one’s body and mind without any restriction whatsoever that is not imposed by the natural world or one’s own conscience. In this state of pure liberty, a person gains all the benefits and all the consequences of their thoughts and actions.

 

Of course, that perfect state of liberty can only exist when one is perfectly alone for ever since two humans have existed together, conflict was inevitable. As humans gather in families, then bands, then communities, then nations, our perfect liberty unavoidably conflicts with the perfect liberty of others. Where conflict exists, there must be a means to resolve that conflict.

 

In a perfect world where all people are wise, just, fair, and equally endowed with physical gifts, these clashes of liberties would be resolved through mutual agreement. Two people would meet and resolve their differences according to their own self-interest without further encroaching on the other. In the real world, however, people are subject to avarice, cruelty, selfishness, rage, stupidity, and all the other failings that are integral to the human condition. In such a real world, the strong and violent prey on the meek and docile and individual liberties are drowned in oceans of blood and tears.

 

We take it as a matter of principle that all people are created equal. Whether one considers that equality to spring from God, nature, or some other ethereal font is immaterial. We take our equality as fact. That is not to say that we are all equal in physical condition or material circumstance, but that we are equal in terms of our individual liberties and right to exercise thereof. As we are all equal, then all our individual liberties are equal and must be equally defended irrespective of our physical, mental, moral, or pecuniary strengths.

 

Without equality and individual liberty, we would not need government. We would be merely pigs in need of a good swineherd. If we had no inherent rights to self-determination of our bodies and our minds, then there is no need for any collective power to protect those rights. When conflict arises between two pigs, the swineherd does not dwell on the just cause of the afflicted or on the encroachment of rights. He simply slaughters the fatter pig to maintain order.

 

If we are to accept that we are not swine and, in fact, are human beings with inherent individual liberties, then we must accept that we must have civic order to coexist. That civic order must be enforced by someone or something. Without civic order, each human is left to defend his or her liberties from the onslaught of those who would take them by force. It is from the friction of grinding conflict that we generate the heat to forge government as a collective shield to protect our individual liberties.

 

The primary function of government is to define and enforce a civic order for the purpose of protecting our individual liberties from within and without. While our society has stretched the purpose of government into a means of concentrating power and wealth for use in advancing the collective will of the people, that is not the fundamental reason for government’s existence. When any government — whatever its composition — ceases to defend and protect our individual liberties, then it is no longer a legitimate government. It is an instrument of tyranny.

 

On the need for government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. When I get really frustrated with government, my habit is to retreat into first principles to center myself. Go pick up a copy. Here’s a part:

We take it as a matter of principle that all people are created equal. Whether one considers that equality to spring from God, nature, or some other ethereal font is immaterial. We take our equality as fact. That is not to say that we are all equal in physical condition or material circumstance, but that we are equal in terms of our individual liberties and right to exercise thereof. As we are all equal, then all our individual liberties are equal and must be equally defended irrespective of our physical, mental, moral, or pecuniary strengths.

 

Without equality and individual liberty, we would not need government. We would be merely pigs in need of a good swineherd. If we had no inherent rights to self-determination of our bodies and our minds, then there is no need for any collective power to protect those rights. When conflict arises between two pigs, the swineherd does not dwell on the just cause of the afflicted or on the encroachment of rights. He simply slaughters the fatter pig to maintain order.

 

If we are to accept that we are not swine and, in fact, are human beings with inherent individual liberties, then we must accept that we must have civic order to coexist. That civic order must be enforced by someone or something. Without civic order, each human is left to defend his or her liberties from the onslaught of those who would take them by force. It is from the friction of grinding conflict that we generate the heat to forge government as a collective shield to protect our individual liberties.

 

The primary function of government is to define and enforce a civic order for the purpose of protecting our individual liberties from within and without.

Legislature must end Evers’ arbitrary rule

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

The Legislature had belatedly awoken from their slumber to take action to reassert our representative form of government by ending Governor Tony Evers’ latest emergency declaration. While much of the media is aping the rhetoric from the Democrats that it is an effort to end the mask mandate, it is about much more than that. It is about our very system of government and whether or not we will live under a representative government that reflects the consent of the people or under the arbitrary power of a single man.

 

When the pandemic began, we were beset with incorrect information that projected the deaths of tens of millions of Americans if the government did not act immediately. While those projections proved to be incorrect, in the moment the threat justified the use of an emergency declaration to take immediate steps to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. An emergency declaration is a legal provision that allows the governor to make immediate decisions and react quickly in the case of a natural or man-made disaster. Emergency declarations are not intended to be permanent, but simply a tool to allow immediate action until the Legislature can convene and develop a response in the normal course of representative government as prescribed by our state Constitution. We are now almost 10 months into a series of emergency declarations under which our representative republic has been suspended and laws are being written and enforced on the authority of a single man living in a mansion on Lake Mendota. Under these emergency declarations, Governor Evers has closed businesses, changed election laws, suspended civil liberties to assemble, forbidden people to leave their homes, suspended accountability rules for education and other government bodies, and doled out tens of millions of dollars to individuals and businesses without any oversight. And, yes, Evers has ordered all Wisconsinites to wear masks.

 

The Legislature has now had time to meet to develop and pass legislation to respond to the ongoing health concern of COVID-19 and yet Governor Evers continues to issue emergency declarations and govern as if he is imparted with that divine knowledge and right that our previous rulers assumed. The fact that the governor disagrees with the policy choices of the Legislature in response to COVID-19 is not a reason to abandon representative government. Nor should the citizens of Wisconsin surrender our civil liberties to the arbitrary will of a single man.

 

These principles are rooted in the very foundation of our nation and our state. Our system of government was established under the principles that all people are created equal and that we are all equally flawed. We are humans, after all, and imbued with all of the passion, bigotry, avarice, jealousy, ignorance, stupidity, as well as love, compassion, honor, nobility, intelligence, and kindness that is the natural human condition. We are all a swirling mess of contradictions and subject to following our worst instincts.

 

If we are all equal, and all equally flawed, then why would any human surrender his or her natural rights and liberty to the arbitrary will of another? But since such surrender is necessary for the protection of individual rights, we establish governments as the least worst option to protect those individual rights. Those governments were established to reflect the will of the people through representation so that no single man or woman would ever have arbitrary power over another, but only wield power through the consent of the governed.

 

That is why our government is structured to have three coequal branches and an elaborate system of checks and balances to keep any branch from ruling supreme. That is why it takes the consent of two branches of government, the legislative and the executive, to pass a law. That is why citizens can appeal to the judicial branch if they think their rights were violated by a law enacted and enforced by the other two branches. Our government is specifically constructed so that it is difficult to wield power over the governed without their consent being obtained through multiple sources.

 

All of this representative government is thrown away when we allow our governor simply to bypass it through endless emergency declarations. Wisconsin is currently living under the rule of one man and will be so until the Legislature reestablishes normal order and representative government. This is about our right to govern ourselves under the constructs of our state Constitution or abandon it for the arbitrary rule of the governor. This is about our very liberty. And no, it is not about the masks.

Jay Weber is reporting this morning that after more analysis, the Assembly Republicans has determined that the repeal bill passed by the Senate has some flaws. The Assembly will be writing a different version and then, after passing, they will need to go into the reconciliation process with the Senate.

What is telling to me about all of that is that in all of the time that these emergency orders have been in place and the legislature was in stasis for most of last year, nobody worked on this. Nobody did the homework, wrote drafts of bills, discussed the strategy, debated the process, or anything else. It appears that the legislative Republicans truly did sit on their duffs all year and just now started to put some work into protecting our rights. This is despite repeated sternly-worded press releases and public statements last year that they were very concerned for our rights and our businesses. That is truly disappointing.

Well, they are off their duffs now, but all of the bluster and activity means nothing if they don’t accomplish anything. They need to get this done.

Legislature must end Evers’ arbitrary rule

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I wanted to title it “It’s Not About the Effing Masks,” my I didn’t think my editor would go for that. Go pick up the whole thing, but here’s a part:

These principles are rooted in the very foundation of our nation and our state. Our system of government was established under the principles that all people are created equal and that we are all equally flawed. We are humans, after all, and imbued with all of the passion, bigotry, avarice, jealousy, ignorance, stupidity, as well as love, compassion, honor, nobility, intelligence, and kindness that is the natural human condition. We are all a swirling mess of contradictions and subject to following our worst instincts.

 

If we are all equal, and all equally flawed, then why would any human surrender his or her natural rights and liberty to the arbitrary will of another? But since such surrender is necessary for the protection of individual rights, we establish governments as the least worst option to protect those individual rights. Those governments were established to reflect the will of the people through representation so that no single man or woman would ever have arbitrary power over another, but only wield power through the consent of the governed.

 

That is why our government is structured to have three coequal branches and an elaborate system of checks and balances to keep any branch from ruling supreme. That is why it takes the consent of two branches of government, the legislative and the executive, to pass a law. That is why citizens can appeal to the judicial branch if they think their rights were violated by a law enacted and enforced by the other two branches. Our government is specifically constructed so that it is difficult to wield power over the governed without their consent being obtained through multiple sources.

 

All of this representative government is thrown away when we allow our governor simply to bypass it through endless emergency declarations. 

Vaccinating Wisconsin

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Since I hammered on Evers for his poor administration of the vaccine rollout last week, I thought it behooved me to offer a few ways to improve it.

Last week this column was highly critical of Governor Tony Evers’ administration’s utter incompetence in managing the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. Another week has passed, and Wisconsin has dropped from 40th to 43rd of the 50 states in the number of doses administered per 100,000 citizens. An old boss once told me to never bring him a problem without at least one solution, so here are a few suggestions that Governor Evers could do to improve his failing administration.

 

First, Governor Evers needs to take ownership of the decision-making process. Just last Wednesday, the state vaccine advisory subcommittee voted to approve which Wisconsinites will be included in Phase 1B – the second group of Wisconsinites who will be eligible to receive the vaccine. Now that the subcommittee has approved it, the full committee will need to review the plan. If the full committee decides that they want to modify the eligibility, then it will go back to the subcommittee for more work. If the full committee votes to approve Phase 1B, then the subcommittee and full committee will begin work on Phase 1C and eventually Phase 2. The vaccine has been available for almost seven weeks and Wisconsin still has not decided who will be in the second wave. That is entirely too slow. If this is truly an emergency, then Governor Evers needs to act like it. Governor Evers should get into a room with the committee, advisers, and other important stakeholders and not leave until all of the phases are determined. These are decisions that can, and should, be made in an afternoon.

 

[…]

 

Third, the overriding focus of vaccine distribution and administration should be to put needles into as many arms as possible. It is an emergency, right? In an emergency, speed of execution is more important than accuracy. As General George S. Patton famously quipped, “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

 

That means that while clinics should prioritize the distribution according to the 1A, 1B, etc. phases, the first priority should be to empty the refrigerators of vaccines as quickly as possible. Ideally, the time between when a clinic receives an order of doses and when they are out and need to order more should be less than 48 hours. It is better for a vaccine to go into the arm of someone in Phase 1C instead of sitting in storage for two days.

Where are the vaccines?

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week. The numbers have changed a bit, but the issue remains.

After Governor Tony Evers failed the unemployed of Wisconsin with his inept management of unemployment claims, he is compounding Wisconsin’s misery with his failure to administer the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. What is more infuriating is that when questioned about it, Evers blusters and obfuscates with all the indignation of a career bureaucrat unacquainted with accountability.

 

The numbers evolve by the hour, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of last Friday, Wisconsin has administered 169,803 doses of the vaccine. Only 2.6% of the population has received one dose; 0.3% are fully vaccinated. Wisconsin ranks 40th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in rolling out the vaccine on a per-capita basis.

 

The numbers are important. Wisconsin had received 437,900 doses of the vaccine as of that date. That means that Wisconsin has only administered 39% of the doses it has been given and 268,097 vaccine doses are sitting in refrigerators all over Wisconsin. Last week, Governor Evers admitted that his administration would be unable to begin inoculating the general public until June – over five months from now. It is a disgraceful admission of failure given with the banality of an indifferent government bureaucrat. One must delve into some gritty details to understand why the vaccine rollout is so lethargic in Wisconsin. One cause is that the Evers administration has been too slow in making decisions about how to roll it out. The dates are important.

 

Thanks to the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, we were expecting the approval of one or more vaccines as early as September. The process for distribution would follow the traditional federal path whereby the federal government marshals supplies while the states are responsible for the details of distribution.

 

With this knowledge, Evers’ Department of Health Services created a subcommittee in early October to decide the strategy and priority list for vaccine distribution. After two months of deliberation, the 17-member subcommittee finally decided on Dec. 10 that the first group of people who should be in Phase 1A were to receive the vaccine first. The first Pfizer vaccine was approved on Dec. 11.

 

But that was just the first group. Then the subcommittee went to work on the next group: Phase 1B. After over a month, they had the proposed list available for public comment on Jan. 12. That very same day, the CDC gave guidance that states should open up vaccinations to everyone over the age of 65.

 

This subcommittee still needs to finalize Phase 1B before moving on to Phase 1C, Phase 2, etc. These are decisions that could be made in an afternoon. While Wisconsinites are suffering and being told that there is a medical crisis, Evers’ bureaucracy moves at its own pace – oblivious to the travails of the citizens it serves.

 

Meanwhile, the DHS is hoarding some doses to prevent them from being administered to the “wrong” people. The DHS is holding back distributing doses to pharmacies because they want to make sure there is enough for second doses. Meanwhile, the CDC advised that there is no need to hold back and fewer Wisconsinites are able to get their first dose.

 

As somewhat of an aside, it is also telling that there is a significant dip in vaccinations on the weekends and holidays. On New Year’s Day, for example, only 110 vaccines were administered in the entire state. If this is truly a pandemic emergency, they are sure not acting like it.

 

When confronted for his administration’s failures, Evers blames the federal government for not giving the state enough doses (despite having administered less than half of the doses available); blames Republicans; makes vigorous, if unsubstantiated, proclamations about the competence of his government; and refuses to accept any responsibility for his administration’s failures. However, despite his accusations and deflections, the simple truth is that Evers has failed to administer the doses Wisconsin has already been given.

 

Evers’ administration of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has been too slow, too bureaucratic, and too lazy. While Wisconsinites are being asked to forgo their livelihoods, upend their lives, and accept a retardation of civil rights in response to a pandemic, Governor Evers and his administration are behaving like it is just a another day at the office.

Where are the vaccines?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It’s not often that I find myself on the same side as the editorial board for the Madison paper. Here’s s snippet:

After Governor Tony Evers failed the unemployed of Wisconsin with his inept management of unemployment claims, he is compounding Wisconsin’s misery with his failure to administer the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. What is more infuriating is that when questioned about it, Evers blusters and obfuscates with all the indignation of a career bureaucrat unacquainted with accountability.

 

[…]

 

Last week, Governor Evers admitted that his administration would be unable to begin inoculating the general public until June – over five months from now. It is a disgraceful admission of failure given with the banality of an indifferent government bureaucrat.

 

[…]

 

This subcommittee still needs to finalize Phase 1B before moving on to Phase 1C, Phase 2, etc. These are decisions that could be made in an afternoon. While Wisconsinites are suffering and being told that there is a medical crisis, Evers’ bureaucracy moves at its own pace – oblivious to the travails of the citizens it serves.

 

[…]

 

When confronted for his administration’s failures, Evers blames the federal government for not giving the state enough doses (despite having administered less than half of the doses available); blames Republicans; makes vigorous, if unsubstantiated, proclamations about the competence of his government; and refuses to accept any responsibility for his administration’s failures. However, despite his accusations and deflections, the simple truth is that Evers has failed to administer the doses Wisconsin has already been given.

 

Evers’ administration of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has been too slow, too bureaucratic, and too lazy. While Wisconsinites are being asked to forgo their livelihoods, upend their lives, and accept a retardation of civil rights in response to a pandemic, Governor Evers and his administration are behaving like it is just a another day at the office.

 

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