Court for sale
I don't think the current dysfunction in the Wisconsin Supreme Court is because of judicial elections, but how these elections are funded ("Let's End Supreme Court Elections," Emily Mills, 7/8/2011).
When special interest groups such as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce invest millions of dollars in phony issue ads, it results in the election of flawed justices who are focused on ideology and rewarding their backers instead of the rule of law and the common good.
The corrupting power of large amounts of money spent by third parties on judicial elections is clear. Let's change the way campaigns are financed - not let some "educated committee" choose our justices and shut the people out.
The right stuff
I love Jason Joyce's stuff and especially appreciated this week's sports column on Bill Simmons and Grantland.com ("Grantland.com Offers Literate Sports Commentary," 7/22/2011).
Don't be too quick to write off Sports Illustrated as a "champion of literary sportswriting," though, Jason. Check out Joe Posnanski's "Loving Baseball" in last week's issue. I'm making a place for Joe in my personal sportswriters' hall of fame, right up there with Roger Angell, Tom Boswell, W.P. Kinsella, poet Donald Hall and very few others.
Lobbyists not sinister
Doug Zweizig's letter ("Green Machine," 7/29/2011) insinuates that I operate in some kind of ethical cesspool because I am, among my many capacities, a registered lobbyist for RENEW Wisconsin. Many nonprofits have in-house lobbyists; there is nothing sinister about that. Many of our members are businesses that build renewable energy systems ranging from large-scale wind projects to rooftop solar energy systems. This year they have witnessed a series of setbacks at the state level that will, if not reversed, force them to downsize or shift their focus to other states.
Michael Vickerman, Executive director RENEW Wisconsin
The union label
Marc Eisen is correct when talking about Scott Walker's victory in crippling the unions in our state ("Can Unions Reboot for the 21st Century?", 7/29/2011).
Where Eisen gets it completely wrong is how unions must change. Virtually all "education reform" right now in this country is corporate driven and not at all democratic. Charter schools, for example, do not exist to benefit all children or improve society; they exist to funnel tax dollars away from public schools and give them to private businesses, who stand to make millions.
Another area where Eisen gets it all wrong is the concept of merit pay. While paying the best teachers more seems like a sensible idea, how do we determine this? Right now that's determined through student test scores taken from flawed tests. How about measuring a student gaining self-confidence or becoming intellectually engaged in something? These things cannot be measured by tests. The merit pay concept as it now exists is a corporate-backed plan to eliminate those pesky, older, overpaid teachers so schools can hire those idealistic youngsters who will gladly work for one-third of what their older colleagues earned.
Unions no doubt have to change. We need to become more aggressive in advocating for our children and our democracy. We need to demand more and not accept less.
Andrew McCuaig, La Follette High School
Are some schools hurting? Yes. One big reason is that poverty and its role is being ignored in educational debate and reform. Schools can't deal with poverty alone. Schools need help from the state and federal government. Otherwise, educational reform won't go anywhere.
Most of us teachers are doing the best we can under circumstances we can't control. And now, with the loss of collective bargaining, we have even less of a voice in advocating for our students.
Mari Lea Larson, Sauk City
I can't help but agree with Marc Eisen's premise that public employee unions in Wisconsin need to change in order to survive, but I don't go along with his conclusion that their only way forward is to abandon the outmoded contract provisions which he depicts as a key barrier to delivery of quality public services.
Prevailing wisdom portrays the unions as mere funding conduits for the Democratic Party: Their members' dues are funneled to Democratic candidates who use their clout to grant sweetheart contract deals once they're elected to office. This thinking ignores the close alliance the Wisconsin State Employee Union made with the Republican Party back in the '80s to promote Tommy Thompson's prison building schemes. The WSEU did the math and saw that more prisons = more prison jobs (and more union members).
Unfortunately, the cost of operating all those prisons blew an enormous hole in the state budget, resulting in drastic budget cuts for most state agencies. By the time Democrats finally returned to the statehouse in 2002, the WSEU and other state labor organizations found themselves on the outside looking in, and they were powerless to challenge the new governor's plans to cut 10,000 positions, freeze union wages and furlough state employees.
Warren J. Gordon
There weren't many new free-market talking points in Marc Eisen's anti-union screed except calling teachers featherbedders. How are teachers featherbedders? His style is straight-up Thomas Friedman; meandering assertions with a few anecdotes and asides thrown in to make the writer seem like a regular guy giving a bulletproof argument. Eisen asserts older teachers are "running on fumes" and are being rewarded at the expense of "talented younger teachers." That is an assertion with no facts to back it. Fact: Smaller class size and an experienced teacher positively affect the outcome.
Walker deserves no credit for "masterfully" gutting public employees' rights. He merely followed the path delineated by his and the Fitzgeralds' masters at ALEC. There's nothing masterful (and everything shameful) about acting as the richest one percent's henchman.
"Unions need to define the greater good they stand for"? Please...if anyone is unaware that Wisconsin teachers unfailingly stand for their students' growth and well-being (and that unions merely support them in their infinite efforts), they weren't paying attention in class.