I find the petulant musings of Alfred McCoy (TDP excerpt: "School Honoree Has Questionable Past," 4/13/07) confusing. What would he have the school named? After Thomas Jefferson, the slave owner? Or how about Harry Truman, who dropped not one but two atomic bombs on civilian Japan? Perhaps Andrew Jackson, liquidator of Native Americans? Somehow I doubt he'd have such objections to these namesakes.
These figures get free passes from their moral lapses because, as we're all taught in grade school, Americans are inherently good. Their wrongdoings are deemed "controversies," points of "debate" that nevertheless fail to tarnish the values they stand for.
But because Vang Pao is Hmong and respected primarily by Hmong, it would be "moral cowardice" to name a school after him. Perhaps it's time to realize the Hmong community is American too, entitled to their heroes. McCoy employs a blatant double standard.
Here's an idea: Instead of naming schools after generals and politicians, how about poets and educators?
How many presidents of the United States owned slaves? And of those presidents, how many have schools, parks and other monuments named after them?
According to my research, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant were all slave owners.
Should we reexamine the use of their names, too, for public facilities? The people who oppose the naming of a new school for Gen. Vang Pao should be careful to not sound like a hypocrite to the Hmong community.
Gen. Vang Pao was an officer in the Royal Lao Army and with the recommendation of the French was picked by the United States to lead the American effort to contain the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. He gained the reputation of being one of the most effective military leaders of the last century.
Because of the secret army's mission to rescue downed American pilots; disrupt enemy supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and fight against the North Vietnamese intrusion into Laos, the lives of many American soldiers were saved.
In this country, like no other leader in exile, Vang Pao has been the central figure in giving the Hmong a vision for their future through education.
War is not pretty; the growing of opium poppies was a way of life in Southeast Asia. However, Gen. Vang Pao will tell you he worked 18 hours a day surrounded by American advisers. There was little time to deal with anything other than the matters at hand.
I suggest the school board consider other historical writings than Dr. McCoy's, such as Tragic Mountains by Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt and Shooting the Moon by Roger Warner.
Ed Szendrey The Fact Finding Commission Chico, Calif. www.factfinding.org
A false accusation
In your article "He's Freed Us as a People" (4/27/07), former Madison school board member Shwaw Vang ignored the published record to falsely accuse me of using a racial epithet against the Hmong. Citing the original 1972 edition of my book, The Politics of Heroin, Mr. Vang criticized me for using the word "Meo" instead of "Hmong," saying that using the term at that time was "very derogatory" and "the equivalent of the N-word."
As any online search quickly shows, the facts do not support Mr. Vang's inflammatory and utterly false allegations. The first 1972 edition of my book did employ the term "Meo," since that was the only term then available in English or French. Back then, the term "Hmong" simply did not exist in Western usage.
Indeed, at that time, now 35 years ago, all U.S. books, magazines, and newspapers used the term "Meo," which is a Southeast Asian variant of the ancient Chinese word "Miao." In 1972, the same year my book was published, The New York Times published 27 articles on Laos with the word "Meo," and zero that said "Hmong."
Two years after my book was published, the Hmong scholar Dr. Yang Dao began popularizing the new term in his 1974 book Hmong at the Turning Point, and American usage began to change, albeit very slowly. The New York Times first used the term "Hmong" in 1978 (six years after my book was published), but continued to use "Meo" interchangeably for the next 20 years.
To express respect for the extraordinary sacrifice of the Hmong and to avoid giving any offense, I changed the term to "Hmong" in both the second (1991) and third (2003) editions of my book - something that Shwaw Vang failed to mention in his attack. Indeed, the older term was purged from the text, and even the maps were redrawn, at considerable expense.
If we cannot trust Shwaw Vang with such elementary facts, then how can the Madison community trust him when he tells us that Gen. Vang Pao is a universally beloved, humanitarian figure worthy of having one of our schools named in his honor?
Alfred McCoy J.R.W. Smail Professor of History UW-Madison
If, indeed, TIF is a wonk's delight, I plead guilty. As Dane County treasurer, I have represented the county on about 30 TIF Joint Review Boards in the last two and one-half years.
I appreciate that Isthmus saw fit to spend some ink on TIF policy ("City Rules Have Builders TIFfed Off," 3/30/07), and I wanted to add two points.
First, Madison is one of only a small number of municipalities in the state to rely on an objective determination of financial need to pass the "but for" test.
In other words, developers have to show that without tax increment financing their project would not make economic sense. Perhaps some developers don't like the burden of sharing the economic basis of their deal, but it allows Madison to show that TIF, when given, is justified.
I don't want to imply that other Dane County communities that use a more subjective standard for the "but for" test are wrong. However, it can put pressure on a given community to respond to criticism of a given project. The subjective arguments can be less persuasive to those critics.
Second, any comparison of TIF projects from different municipalities will be superficial if the public policy purpose of the project isn't addressed. Projects may be intended to create jobs, remediate blight, provide attractive mixed-use development that otherwise wouldn't be built, or other notable goals.
My thinking is that every municipality creating a Tax Incremental District must be able to articulate the goals of that specific project, so that the policy makers, other taxing districts and citizens can help to decide whether the goal is worthwhile or not.
Dane County Treasurer
Regarding Marc Eisen's story on tax increment financing: The sidebar purports to explain that a TIF subsidy to a developer "somehow pays for itself."
In reality, a TIF subsidy is a shell game that lets new development occur without paying property taxes for many years. Here's how it really works:
When the city loans TIF money to a developer, the city originally borrowed that money by issuing bonds to raise it. Later, the money the city collects each year as so-called property tax from the TIF property is used to pay off the bonds. As a result, that money is not available to spend on city services, which is where city property taxes usually go.
Of course, even though the collections from the TIF property are not available to buy services, its new residents or employees still increase the need for city services like police, fire, streets, transit, trash and parks.
The result is that other taxpayers pay for the services to the TIF property for the many years it takes for the TIF's "property taxes" to pay off the loan. The TIF subsidy doesn't "pay for itself," but is instead paid by all other city taxpayers who pick up the tab for the untaxed TIF property.
Jason Shepard's column "Mandate for New Thinking" (4/6/07) is probably the dumbest thing I've ever read about school finance in Wisconsin. And that's saying a lot because I served on the Monona Grove School Board from 1999 to 2006. It's just plain ignorant to think that "outside-of-the-box" thinking will help.
As if that tired cliché isn't irritating enough, Shepard's failure to understand what's been happening in our state for many years is even worse, and he needs to pull his head out of the Dane County sand.
Other Wisconsin districts have been coping with our broken state funding system much longer than Madison, and I can gosh darn guarantee that school boards all over Wisconsin have been outside the box, under the box, on top of the box and around the box, all to no avail.
Is there something in our water that makes Madison school board members more creative than others? (Maybe it's the magnesium!) Doesn't the fact that an unprecedented number of school finance referendums were on the spring ballots around the state say something? We don't need to get outside the box - we need a new box in the form of school finance reform.
Jason Shepard's column certainly got my blood boiling. I've taught kindergarten in the Evansville schools for close to 29 years now. During that time, I've seen co-workers lose their jobs because of budget restraints. I was even laid off myself one spring and spent several months wondering if I'd ever teach again before my job was reinstated.
I saw the Tommy Thompson years and the beginning of the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer), which abruptly brought any raise in my salary to a screeching halt, and led to increasingly poorer health insurance packages in succeeding years.
I've also seen the direct effects of the revenue caps that began during the Thompson years. Class sizes have risen in all of our schools except for the ones receiving SAGE money. Each spring, staff has been presented with the "worst-case scenario" in which staff is laid off, programs are lost, or we take even deeper hits in our salary and benefits.
Mr. Shepard is correct that "agonizing school budget hearings show need for change." But the change needed is in the way that our schools are funded and our teachers compensated. Teachers across the nation are now more than ever feeling the heat because of "high-stakes testing," and some districts even have begun to institute the concept of merit pay.
One can only wonder if the goal of many politicians is to cripple the public schools and to make them the place where only the poor, the disabled and the neediest kids attend, while the others can attend sanitized private schools that have no QEO or revenue caps.
Thank you for highlighting the benefits of Youth Courts ("Getting the Community Involved," 3/23/07). It is important to note that research has demonstrated a 20%-40% lower recidivism rate among the youth participating in these courts as compared to those in the traditional juvenile and municipal court systems.
Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin (formerly Community Adolescent Programs) has been providing Youth Court services in Dane County since 1999. The agency operates in Sun Prairie, Cottage Grove, DeForest, Middleton and the Allied Drive neighborhood in Madison.
Each court has a volunteer steering committee of local residents providing oversight of the court, including customization of each Youth Court to meet the unique needs of its community.
Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin hopes to work in collaboration with the Dane County Timebank to further expand Youth County services in Dane County.
Casey S. Behrend, executive director
Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin Inc.
Save big money
From reading Kathryn Kingsbury's sidebar "Do You Need a Realtor?" (Abode, 3/30/07) one could conclude that For Sale By Owner home sales typically result in a net loss for the seller and that most Madison FSBO property-sellers fail to sell. Not true. (Disclosure: I am webmaster of FSBOMadison.com, though I do not speak for them.)
Ms. Kingsbury writes in reference to FSBO Madison: "about 25% of its clients don't sell their houses." Of course, this means that about 75% of its clients do sell their properties. Three out of four succeed. For $150 this seems like a no-brainer.
Even if you were to factor in all the expenses Ms. Kingsbury claims a seller would incur (and she does overestimate), you would still realize a $2,150 savings on a $180,000 home sale.
Taking a more realistic approach to the costs incurred results in a savings of $4,625 to $10,025 depending on whether or not a buyer agent was involved.
David B. Zwiefelhofer
Fee for what?
Ticketing is one reason why Overture revenues have been disappointing ("Overture Charts a New Course," 4/6/07). Forcing patrons to pay a fee for ticket purchases over the telephone or the Internet is a sure way to keep sales down.
I phoned to purchase tickets for an Overture event and was told there would be a $5 surcharge for each ticket plus a $3 fee. Total fees of $13 for two tickets because I wanted to buy tickets over the phone.
When I tried the Overture Web site, I was told there would be a $4 "convenience fee" per ticket (as though the Overture Center is doing me a favor), plus a $3 charge for my purchase.
I opted for buying the tickets in person to avoid the fees. I do understand good acts are expensive. But I balk at paying fees whose purpose I do not understand. How can the Overture Center charge me an extra $11 to $13 to order tickets in a way that is normal even for movie theaters these days?
Up to code
Mad City Broadband would like to clarify the reference to Madison Gas & Electric's utility poles in your recent article, "Can You Access Me Now?" (4/20/07). MGE's existing utility poles do currently meet all NESC code requirements, to the best of my knowledge.
Mad City Broadband