March 29, 2006
'Wrong and strong'
By Mark Sherman
I recently finished reading Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future by Evan Thomas and the staff at Newsweek, and I remain haunted by a single sentence from the book: “Wrong and strong beats right and bright.”
“Wrong and strong” explains why Bush can’t recall or isn’t allowed to recall having made any mistakes. It explains why the old Vietnam War cronies, Rumsfeld and Cheney, are continuing to deny the Iraqi realities. It explains why we continue to hear the fear-mongering sound bites about terrorists, patriotism and Saddam. It’s why coordinated special interests are test-marketing commercials designed to stir irrational fear in the American public. It is why we all must wonder if we will see the return of orange and red alerts in time for the fall elections.
It also explains why Senator Russ Feingold finds himself virtually alone when he proposes setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq or censuring the president for breaking the law, and why the Republican National Committee will run attack ads against Feingold.
Closer to home, “wrong and strong” explains why Scott Jensen would go to trial with the defense that he was just doing what Supreme Court justices did before him, why referendum initiatives to discriminate against gay people and put permanent tax cuts in the state Constitution would be such a high legislative priority, and why executive and legislative deals are made to subvert and undermine local control of public education.
I try to take some comfort in Thomas Jefferson’s counsel from 1798: “A little patience and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles.”
I think a “recovery of sight” is the only solution to the “wrong and strong” bullies that are currently defying the sacred individual sovereignty that was fundamentally expressed in our constitutions.
March 25, 2006
By Bill Kraus
What we seem to be flirting with in Wisconsin is mimicking California where they have given up on representative government and gone to a kind of populist by a constitutional mandate system run amok.
As former Republican congressional candidate John Sharpless pointed out when the TABOR idea first surfaced as something that might become a constitutional provision: In California their constitution is now unconstitutional due to conflicting and incompatible mandates. California, he suggests, is hardly a role model for our democracy.
In Wisconsin we are looking at putting marriage prohibitions, tax policies, voter identification rules, and probably something about turning the state into Dodge City into the constitution.
I am not entirely happy with the statutes that our elected representatives produce, but I am not ready to give up on their ability to govern just yet, even though many of them seem to be eager to toss over their constitutional duties and obligations.
They would be well advised to keep the law of unintended consequences in mind. If this is the way they want to govern, how about putting dispassionate legislative redistricting into the constitution or term limits or a part-time Legislature?
Turnabout is fair play.
March 24, 2006
Ha! Cheney drinks Perrier
By Ms. Forward
Among the Smoking Gun Web site’s many contributions to our society is the posting of the ridiculous “tour riders” that celebrities impose on the staff who have the misfortune of working at the hotels and venues where they appear. No brown M&M’s for Van Halen, white flowers for J-Lo, that sort of crap.
Now the Smoking Gun has unearthed the rider for Vice President Dick Cheney, who made an appearance in our state recently to promote the congressional candidacy of fellow-ray-of-sunshine John Gard.
According to the rider, some poor schlub in Titletown was likely assigned to fetch diet caffeine-free Sprite, pour decaffeinated coffee in a “carafe,” and tune all televisions to Fox News.
If the vile Lynne Cheney is traveling with her vile husband, she requires a couple of bottles of sparkling water --- preferably Perrier.
We knew it.
March 21, 2006
State Journal not so biased
By Ms. Forward
The Associated Press, to its credit, recently did an analysis of business taxes nationwide and found that Wisconsin ranks in the "bottom third." That should come as no surprise to readers of FightingBob.com, who have read over and over on this site that corporate taxes here are among the very lowest in the nation, down there with Mississippi and Louisiana. This is according to studies from Citizens for Tax Justice and other places and has been the case for a long time.
Ms. Forward wonders why A.P. could not be more specific than "bottom third," but whatever.
The A.P. piece ran in newspapers and on Web sites throughout the state, mostly under apt headlines like the one on the Web site of TV station WFRV in Green Bay: "Wisconsin business profits far outpace tax bills."
What was the headline in the Wisconsin State Journal, where the news pages and editorial pages love to claim, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that Wisconsin has an anti-business climate that drives employers away in droves? It was, "State business tax not so high."
Oh well, at least they ran the article.
March 18, 2006
By Bill Kraus
I find myself increasingly quoting Pogo (“I have found the enemy, and it is us”) and railing at the non-voters who could win any election and choose not to vote in most elections.
It occurs to me that maybe they are smarter than I am.
Maybe they are telling us that a non-representative, money-corrupted system isn’t worth their time and effort. If they need something from their government and if they have any money, all they have to do is buy it from a government that is for sale.
What they are saying, in effect if not in fact, is that things are amiss in our so-called representative government. The representatives are representing money, factions that scare them, factions that vote in disproportionate numbers, even factions they like.
They are telling us that they are not being represented in a system where the general interest is presumed to be a compilation of all the special interests, which it is not, never has been, never will be.
They are telling us that politics and politicians are dirty.
They are telling us that the mainstream political parties represent the same things their so-called representatives represent.
They have given up on the system.
They think those of us who pursue reform and other Sisyphean impossibilities are naïve at best, stupid at worst.
It is hard to dismiss this thinking when our representatives in Washington are responding to the Abramoff scandal with quibbles over which free airplane rides are acceptable and their counterparts in Wisconsin bicker over a slam dunk ethics reform bill and threaten to ignore altogether serious campaign finance reform.
March 16, 2006
DOC (code) crackers
By Carlos Pabellon
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections, the statewide agency in charge of the prisons, develops and enacts regulations that prisons in Wisconsin are required to follow. One of these regulations is called “Unauthorized Forms of Communication” and says, “Any inmate who communicates with another person by a method not authorized by the institution is guilty of an offense.” The penalties for violating the rule could include extending an inmate’s sentence.
It’s not hard to imagine why the Department of Corrections would want every prison to have the ability stop unauthorized communications. Safety and security are the paramount concerns in any prison or jail, and stopping inmates from using indecipherable code or doublespeak to assist them in planning an escape or some other harmful act is critical. But at least one prison in Wisconsin is using the regulation to not only prevent inmates from conspiring in code, but also to make the institution into a virtual “English Only” facility.
The Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (WSPF) in Boscobel, which used to be called the “supermax” prison, has been using this regulation as a way to stop Latino inmates from speaking in Spanish when family and friends call or visit. Latino inmates can petition the security staff at WSPF for an exception, but granting the petition is up to the discretion of the staff.
Thus, many of these inmates are faced with one of two frustrating choices: either attempt to speak in English despite the difficulty in doing so and the humiliation of knowing that WSPF staff are listening in, or suffer through another way that WSPF isolates its inmates.
Reasonable alternatives to this institutional policy such as the hiring of bilingual staff apparently are not being pursued, even though hiring someone who can read, speak and understand a language other than English is critical in a number of contexts when it comes to communicating with inmates who may be Latino or Hmong. With clear communication, inmates who may have ulterior motives in using their native language could be more properly and reliably monitored. Isn’t this the level of security we have a prison to house the “worst of the worst” for in the first place?
March 15, 2006
Where the sun should shine
By Christa Westerberg
This week is national Sunshine Week, in which we celebrate open government. But you wouldn’t know it in some quarters of the state.
In January, a state circuit court judge issued a confounding ruling: that the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation (BDADC) is not a governmental body subject to the Wisconsin Open Meetings or Public Records law. Most of you have never heard of the BDADC, but as the judge acknowledged, it receives 90 percent of the Beaver Dam’s room tax and is almost entirely city-funded. It also gets to use City office space, clerical support, copy and fax machine use, and telephone use and postage.
The BDADC and the City have claimed that the corporation is a private, non-profit corporation that just happens to provide economic development services to the City, and so it is allowed to conduct business in private. No wonder the Attorney General’s office sued to make it comply with the Open Meetings and Public Records laws.
This whole situation may never have come to light if Wal-Mart hadn’t approached the City in 2003 to build a distribution center. The BDADC negotiated the deal with Wal-Mart in secret for 11 months (remember, it’s not a public body!), offering up $5 million of the City’s money to attract the retail behemoth. Not surprisingly, Wal-Mart went for it, signing a memorandum of understanding with the City. This denouement occurred in open session of the City Council in October 2003, but it was the first indication any member of the public had that Wal-Mart was coming or that their tax dollars were paying for it.
That’s why it’s so puzzling that the circuit court judge found the BDADC is not subject to the Open Meetings and Public Records laws. The BDADC operates with and spends City money, so it stands to reason it must conduct its business in the open. How else can City leaders and citizens be sure they’re getting a good return on their investment of tax dollars? Fortunately, the Attorney General’s office is appealing the ruling, so perhaps the Court of Appeals will set things straight and make clear that simply calling a governmental entity “private” doesn’t make it so.
March 14, 2006
Gutless Democrats II
By Ms. Forward
Yesterday we blogged about the way gutless Democrats and timid reporters agree not to tell the truth when there is a possibility that the liars might badly outnumber them and make life difficult. Our cases in point were Congressman John Conyers and Harper’s magazine editor Lewis Lapham.
Today’s case in point is Senator Russ Feingold, who wants the Senate to censure President George Bush for illegally wire-tapping his own citizens.
What we see today is a variation on the theme we blogged about yesterday: in this case, the media is actually putting pressure on the gutless Democrats to respond to Feingold. And the gutless Democrats don’t like it.
People like Senator Herb Kohl have to choose not only between taking a stand now or hiding, but they also have to worry about looking stupid later if the issue catches fire and the general public really gets annoyed about the whole illegal wiretapping thing. Remember what happened to John Kerry when he ran against the war in Iraq during his presidential campaign after having voted in favor of the use of force when everybody was doing it?
Kohl has come out against censuring Bush, Harry Reid has dodged the issue and Joe Lieberman has taken the opportunity to talk about the importance wiretapping our citizens.
Thus, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline, “Even Democrats leery of Feingold resolution.”
Thanks Herb. Thanks again, Democrats.
March 13, 2006
The ‘I’ word
By Ms. Forward
When Wisconsin Public Radio discusses the topic of President George W. Bush’s impeachment with Bill Goodman at 5:00 this afternoon, expect the discussion to be calm and measured and to conclude with what might be a non-conclusion. That’s public radio. That’s fine.
But remember that this issue would not be on the air, or in the pages of more and more newspapers and magazines, if it were not for the bravery of two individuals: Fighting Bob Fest keynoter and Congressman John Conyers and FightingBob.com favorite and Harper’s magazine editor Lewis Lapham.
Conyers commissioned a detailed report of the pro-Bush vote fraud in 2004 when the rest of the Democrats were too afraid to advocate anything other than “moving on,” and the report was virtually ignored until Lapham's Harper’s published an essay from Mark Crispin Miller in advance of the publication of his book on the topic. The same pattern emerged on impeachment, with a seemingly Quixotic report from Conyers and a lengthy essay from Lapham himself on the legitimacy of impeaching W.
Basically, Bush has lied to Congress and everyone else and the direct result of his lies includes thousands of people dead and maimed and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted. That seems plain and obvious enough, but most Democrats and journalists seem convinced that telling the truth about something important is the best way to get oneself branded a lunatic or an extremist in what passes for “public debate” these days. One does so at great risk, and Conyers and Lapham are great-risk takers.
Incidentally, National Public Radio will have an "On Point" show on the Ideas Network this evening discussing what else the U.S. could have spent hundreds of billions on. They may or may not consult the FightingBob.com link to Cost of War that GarveyBlog revisits so often. That’s public radio. That’s fine.
March 10, 2006
Public financing: How about trying the front door?
By Bill Kraus
There isn’t enough evidence in to be conclusive, but the case for putting significant public money into political campaigns is decidedly encouraging.
In those states where overt public money goes into campaigns, more candidates run, more races are competitive, more people vote, less money is spent on campaigns, and, perhaps most importantly, the feeling that government is for sale, that representative government represents money more than people diminishes.
But to get all those good things, the idea that putting tax money into campaigns is a form of welfare for politicians has to be overcome.
Actually we have had covert public money in campaigns for a long time. That check-off on our income tax return that sends money to a campaign kitty instead of to the state treasury is public money no matter how the obfuscators have tried to characterize it.
And now the trial of former speaker Scott Jensen has made it clear that we have been putting really serious public money into campaigns in the form of “in kind” contributions as well.
All those people who have been raising money for candidates, managing campaigns, preparing advertising materials, advising, helping, recruiting, supporting in myriad ways have been paid with what may be millions of tax dollars. Covertly.
So the philosophical objection is not really the issue. It is, in short, phony not philosophical. As long as taxpayers are paying for campaigning on the sly, it’s okay?
Now that the cat is out of the bag perhaps the stigma of public money for politics is less stigmatizing? Let’s hope so. If it is, we can come out of the closet and get the kinds of benefits mentioned earlier that states that have openly turned to significant public financing as a political cleansing agent.
The law of unintended consequences takes interesting turns. Certainly by going to trial and letting everyone see how money flows Scott Jensen didn’t think he would make the case for public financing of campaigns. But he has.
March 3, 2006
By Bill Kraus
As I watch the Jensen trial unfold and read the testimony of the witnesses, it occurs to me that this is really deja vu all over again. What these witnesses did is what the people who worked for the political parties used to do. They raised money. They recruited candidates. They prepared campaign materials. They gave campaign advice. They did the grunt work of campaigning.
The crucial difference is that they did these things while occupying state jobs under a set of laws that prohibited state employees from doing these things.
The inescapable conclusion is that if the political parties had been operating at their customary speed, there would have been no need for state employees to do this.
There would have been no need for legislative caucus staffs.
The legislative leaders would have been supporting players in recruiting and advising, but they would not have shouldered the main campaign responsibility.
The parties would have done that.
But the parties were shadows of their former selves, done in by the post-Watergate reforms which were intended to curb the excesses of Richard Nixon, Maurice Stans, and all those political scoundrels of another era.
What the reforms did was enable Political Action Committees, which meant that the political money was no longer routed through the parties, and which, in turn, freed candidates who could tap into that money from being slated by the parties.
The entrepreneurial candidates a party-less system spawned didn’t have to dance to the leaders’ tunes. Not the governor’s. Not the legislative leaders’.
So the legislative leaders created the caucuses and their own campaign committees to get control of the process again. This enabled them to reroute the money through agencies they controlled and to provide the other support that the candidates that they increasingly had recruited needed to win elections.
But they overlooked one tiny thing. They didn’t change the law to make this activity legal.