December 31, 2007 Bye-bye 2007--Welcome 2008!
Lots of good things happened this year. To mention a few, 8,500 people came to Fighting Bob Fest where Jeremy Scahill, Granny D, Cindy Sheehan, Tammy Baldwin, Jim Hightower, Peter Leidy, the Raging Grannies, Mike McCabe and Laura Flanders inspired the crowd. Can't wait until September 6 for our next progressive Chautauqua. (We will have an announcement about the People's Legislature soon.) Hundreds of you wrote for Bob.com and many contributed to help us keep the progressive voice alive and well.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Madison to celebrate birthday number 90 of the Capital Times. It was quite a celebration. As always, Jesse kept hope alive.
War and Peace: Sixty-one years ago, on December 31, 1946, Harry S. Truman declared the official end of hostilities in World War II. The hot war ended but before the embers died, the Cold War and our national hysteria about communism began. Today and tomorrow, I'll think about a statement by the former president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez, found in a marvelous book entitled Speak Truth to Power by Kerry Kennedy:
"War, and the preparation for war, are the two greatest obstacles to human progress; The poor of the world are crying out for schools and doctors, not guns and generals."
How true. As we welcome the new year, let's think about the poor of Iraq and answer their call.
And, we will announe our Fighting Bob person(s) of the year.
December 30, 2007 Tough or smart?
J.B. Van Hollen, our Attorney General is bragging about being tougher on crime. Now there is a novel approach. How do we know he is "getting tougher" on crime? With 30 new Crime Lab analysts the backlog has dropped, and I'm not making this up, from 1,785 when he took office to 1,720 at the end of November. Huzzah! Down 55 in a year, 5 per month. At that break-neck speed, the backlog will be gone in less than 24 years! Wow. Can you beat that?
And, here is more creativity, J.B.V.H.A.G. has created a new bureaucracy. A multi-agency law enforcement team. Hey! J.B. A team. Just like the Brewers and Packers. You are the man! What's next? More prisons, longer sentences, no parole?
December 29, 2007 'Democracy' must roll on!
There was a time when Condi Rice seemed to be relatively competent. No Colin Powell to be sure, but at least she could articulate a policy, albeit, bad policy. Now, after the farcical mid-east summit, her bizarre role in not asking Israel to agree to a cease-fire while cluster bombs rained on Lebanon, she simply looks foolish as she urges Pakistan to hold elections in early January as planned. While there may not be any candidates other than U.S.-backed ones, Rice is anxious for democracy to play out.
If one needed confirmation that the Bush administration does not have a policy in Pakistan, this nonsense proves it. The official government line? You guessed it--"Bhutto was killed by Qaeda and the Taliban" and Bush repeats it as if the FBI had completed a thorough investigation. We can't find Osama, but we know within hours who killed Bhutto. Horse feathers! Yes, "terrorists" did it and we cannot let them get away with disrupting the election. One can almost hear Condi's Senate testimony next month--"Musharraf won the election fair and square."
Accenture: Dave Zweifel writes that the state had many warnings about Accenture. Indeed. Since Wisconsin has same-day registration, the task was rather simple. Everyone has to be counted. As one of the attorneys who brought the suit to stop the give-away to Accenture said, "I don't know whether to laugh or cry" when the release was made public.
Yesterday, the official responsible for the Accenture fiasco said it turned out just fine. As silly as that seems, think about the State's Medicaid computer project that is two years late and way, way over budget. The cost? Sitting down? $64 million. Whoa Nelly! Can't wait to hear this explanation. Accenture is looking better and better! Anyone in charge?
Iowa? Field of Dreams comes to mind. If you hold the first caucus, spend $100 million, put a thousand field reps into every village in Iowa, the national media will come.
Prediction? Foolish, but so what. Romney wins GOP; McCain second. Edwards first, Obama second, Clinton third. In case you are wondering, I'm almost always wrong. Your turn.
December 28, 2007 They did it!
Every time a major American figure has been assassinated, the establishment quickly announced that "JFK, RFK, MLK, Jr, were killed by a lone assassin." While I'm no conspiracy advocate, why the rush to rule out a conspiracy? How did James Earl Ray get a false passport and a ticket to Brussels? And how did Jack Ruby get into the Dallas police department with a clear shot at Oswald? Was it fate that Bobby Kennedy went through the kitchen?
So, the tragedy of a courageous woman, Benazir Bhutto, is dismissed as a terrorist attack. Could it be that Pervez Musharraf intentionally denied her security? I think so. Dictators don't like competition and so it is quite possible that Bush ally Pervez is indirectly responsible for her death. But Bush, Fred Thompson and others have already declared that it was a terrorist attack--no need to ask tough questions of Musharraf. Lone assassin. Terrorist. Easy solutions to complex tragedies.
In her final words, she told her friend in Washington that Musharraf is responsible. Not so says George Bush.
Gas prices: Now that big oil has us conditioned to cheer when we pay only $2.999 at the pump, big oil will head for $4.00 per gallon and we will cheer when we find $3.999. Ah, and billions of profit to big oil. Glad someone is doing well.
You might start by going to the FightingBob.com archives. Begin on September 15, 2005 by reading "Corruption and coincidence" by Mike McCabe. A bunch of us attacked the decision, made behind closed doors, to hire Bermuda-based Accenture a cast- off of Anderson Consulting. We pointed out the flaws in the process but the Elections Board was having none of it. We argued that the cost was outrageous when they could have hired the UW to figure out a program to handle our voting rolls. We noted that Minnesota, using state employees completed their system for about $4 million.
Read this: "The system was to cost $27.5 million but because Accenture gave up almost six million, the project is now`expected to cost $21.5 million." Whoa Nelly! Such a deal. Only $21 million!
McCabe, John Matthews of Madison Teachers Inc., Assemblyman Mark Pocan, AFT and others filed suit. (In the interest of full disclosure, Garvey, McNeil, McGillivray represented the plaintiffs who tried to cancel the contract many millions of dollars ago.)
Kevin Kennedy was smart to release this gem during the holidays. Mike McCabe said, "I think the taxpayers were taken for a ride...a lot of money was poured down a rat hole."
December 26, 2007 Keep your hand on your wallet!
If Paul Revere were living in Milwaukee he would ride through the city yelling "The privatizers are coming, the privatizers are coming!" And County Executive Scott Walker would shoot his horse.
As we watch the phenomenal theft taking place in Iraq through the privatization of the war from meals to mercenaries, the mind boggles at the thought of more privatization here and abroad. Fighting Bob would be appalled. Recall that he railed against the war profiteers in WWI and, by comparison, that was minor stuff.
The privatizers are more often than not the neocons who believe that there is no role for government other than protection of big business. They soften us up by announcing that the sale of our airports, highways, museums and parks will solve our financial problems, cut taxes, and secure our future. Problem is that they prove that old saw that a lie gets half-way around the world before the truth gets her boots on.
Welcome Scott Walker, responding to a suggestion the County sell golf courses, O'Donnell Park, the marinas on Lake Michigan, swimming pools and Mitchell airport. "To me, any of them is fair game." Whoa Nelly! All one need do is trace the recent history of the Public Museum in Milwaukee moving from a financially sound public entity to a near-bankrupt privatized one. The nonsense used to convince people that the Museum would do better in private hands? "Rich contributors are more likely to contribute to a private museum." Nonsense and double nonsense!
Selling Milwaukee's airport is back on the table. Amounts are floated--up to a billion dollars going to the county for the potential purchase. Not mentioned in the JS story is the obvious fact that no one will purchase the airport unless he can see a profit that would come from indirect taxes on airlines and passengers.
Walker wants some quick cash to prove that he is a competent executive and should be our next governor. Yikes! What could we get for Bascom Hall? The Capitol? The Dells?
December 25, 2007 Alms for the consultants
I've written before about the role of consultants and, indeed, having run for office I have some first-hand experience in dealing with this privileged class. The NYT has an important article on how the Democrats are trying to stop paying consultants a percentage of TV time purchased, because of a conflict of interests that would be obvious to a fourth grader.
The standard fee of 15 percent sets up the conflict. Say you have $1 million to spend. The media consultant will urge you to put it all on TV. If you do, he/she gets $150,000. Not bad. But spectacularly unsuccessful Bob Shrum, in the Kerry presidential campaign, got $9 million, "the richest payday for any Democratic media consultant" ever. Maybe. It is unclear because the candidates never announce how much they are paying and, while required disclosure of expenses permits a peek into the tent, the media does a lousy job of covering the money game.
Also MIA is any analysis of the mind-set of the consultants. Name their other clients and you will learn a lot about the candidate. Check out Mark Penn, Hillary's consultant. Then look at David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist. Axelrod won't disclose his fees but assures us that he is a bargain. Who handles media? David Plouffe who is on leave from Axelrod's consulting firm. Nice.
Next time your dinner is interrupted by a call for more money for your candidate, ask how much the consultants will get. Tell him not to waste time calling you. Call the consultants! They can afford a much bigger contribution.
December 24, 2007 The war is over!
Say what? Mainstream media has declared that the surge worked and Iraq is no longer a major issue for presidential candidates. Time to focus on religion, 30-second spots and NCLB. Wow! I must have taken a very long nap. Hey, haul out the good stuff 'cause the troops are comin' home! It's over! And not a day too soon because Afghanistan is not going well and our Defense Secretary Gates announced he might send more troops to that testing ground. Presumably troops now serving in Iraq will get a chance to join the surge in Afghanistan. (Lebanon is in turmoil; Israel still wants us to bomb Iran or they might do it for us; Palestine and Syria? Never mind.)
Oh yeah, despite our fantastic victory in Iraq, the government in Iraq is even more dysfunctional than ours; the guy in charge of building the world's largest target in the Green Zone quit; they can't agree on a plan to remove our oil from beneath Iraq; billions of dollars are still missing; 4.5 million Iraqis remain homeless while NBC shows a happy family "cooking out" and enjoying the peace brought to them by G.I.Bush.
So, $479 billion spent thus far; 700,000 Iraqis killed; almost 4,000 U.S. troops have been killed. Wow! This is some success story on this Christmas Eve.
The NYT reminds us that on this day in 1992, papa Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger and five others for their crimes in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal. George the Lesser better get out his pardon pen. They will be lining up at his door.
December 23, 2007 Try an orange jump suit Scooter
Scott "Scooter" Jensen filed a motion to move his trial to his home turf, Waukesha. Why? You know why but in his motion he said, "The Circuit Court in Waukesha County presents the only proper venue in which to try this case."
Jensen was convicted of misconduct in office but his conviction was overturned and he argues that the new law dealing with corruption gives the politician a choice--be tried where the crime occurred or at home with friendly prosecutors. Dane County D.A. Brian Blanchard believes there should not be one set of rules for politicians and one for the rest of society. He's right. When an inmate serving time comes to court in most cases he is forced to wear an orange jump suit, often shackles, in front of the jury. Think that might prejudice the jury a tad?
I suggest Blanchard offer a deal to Scooter. Wear an orange jump suit and you can be tried in Waukesha.
J.B. on the move: Heck, we reported that A.G. J.B. Van Hollen is running again in three years. I misunderstood. Now he says he may run for Governor. Why not run for President? Huckabee is. No qualifications required.
In polls and damned liars, i suggested that when Wi.Policy Research Institute issues a poll, it is biased from the get-go. I should have gone on to say that once a poll is "out there" others rely on the suspect results. Sure enough. The Wisconsin State Journal gave it play on Sunday. "Faith in Government Hits a Low." Really?
December 22, 2007 Am I happy or not?
AT&T got it's way with the Legislature but Jim Doyle vetoed part of the AT&T drafted cable deregulation bill. Opponents like Senator Mark Miller said Doyle's vetoes were helpful to consumers so I should be happy. But just for the heck of it, I checked TV4US, the AstroTurf operation posing as a "grass roots" movement in support of AT&T. (This was the group that listed me as a supporter apparently because I asked for information!)
The Executive Director of the AstroTurf group is Thad Nation, a former spokesperson for Governor Doyle. He said, and I'm not making this up, "On behalf of the thousands of Wisconsin residents [and, he should have added, 24 lobbyists] who have spoken out in support of competition, I applaud the Legislature for passing the bill with strong bi-partisan majorities." He might have added, "And thanks to all who attended fundraisers for both parties and Merry Christmas AT&T."
Surprise! J.B. Van Hollen, recently elected Attorney General, announced before his one-year anniversary he will run again. Why? Perhaps to send a message to the DOJ--"Don't mess with me 'cause I'm coming back?"
CIA scapegoat or guilty of illegal destruction of interrogation tapes? David Addington, Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzales in a cabal to destroy the tapes. What's your guess? Every day it becomes more difficult for Congress not to impeach.
December 21, 2007 Mo Jo
Remember when Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic primary and then won the general? He boasted of "Mo Joe" and unfortunately we now feel the consequences of his momentum. When Joe Lieberman votes Republican, they almost always win, and he votes that way most of the time. The only time he seems comfortable voting with his former colleagues is when they vote to determine which party is in the majority.
Think about the budget appropriations that passed the House yesterday. $555 million (just three digits short of 666) and $70 billion to continue the Iraqi occupation because it became impossible to get Lieberman and other Rpublican votes to end the war. Thanks Joe. If Vietnam became McNamara's war, Iraq is becoming Lieberman's folly.
Imagine the relief of those Democrats running for president when Lieberman endorsed McCain. Had he endorsed Hillary it might have spelled defeat in Iowa. (I wonder if Joe voted for Gore-Lieberman in 2000.)
Costs go up: Listen to the Republicans in the Assembly moan and groan about taxes. "No new taxes" and "no tax increase" hollered no matter what the needs of the people. Don't you wonder how they deal with snow-removal? No more snow! Apparently the cost of snow removal is a real burden to local units of government. Let them eat snow!
December 20, 2007 Granny D endorses
Good news for Edwards. Doris "Granny D" Haddock endorsed John Edwards in New Hampshire. Granny D has inspired us at two Bob Fests, the People's Legislature "Telling" and she promises to return to Bob Fest VII on September 6. I have something in common with John Edwards, we both love Granny D. Bonnie Raitt called Haddock "one of my heroes."
Granny got off message for a moment. She said "Hillary Clinton has been bought and paid for by corporations to the tune of $88 million. Who do you think she's going to be working for: you or the corporations?"
Good for New Jersey: New Jersey joins the civilized states by abolishing the death penalty. Great news. Forty-two prisoners in America were executed this year--a 13-year low.
In a laugher, the heads of the Big Ten Network and the NFL Network will testify before the State Senate today in favor of a billl that would establish an arbitration system to settle disputes between sports networks and cable companies." C'mon. You aren't fooling anyone with this nonsense. The real issue is the existence of the Big Ten Network. Whose idea was that?
December 19, 2007 Good news, bad news
Yesterday I told you that in keeping with the Christmas season, I'd focus on good news. Not as easy as I thought.
But we do begin with kudos for Chris Dodd who left Iowa and headed for the Senate to lead a one-man filibuster on the bill that would immunize good old AT&T for listening in on our phone calls. It worked. Well done, Chris Dodd.
And I guess it is good news that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is out of the closet on the former Speaker Scott Jensen allegations. He opposes a retrial and said so publicly despite the fact it is up to Dane County D.A. Brian Blanchard. So, kudos, J.B. Your statement, "I'm not interested in having another trial just for the sake of having a trial" speaks for all of us...Scooter Libby, Scooter Jensen and his attorney Bob Friebert. And what a thoughtful gift to the Jensens on Christmas.
More good news--the WMC candidate for the Supreme Court, Judge Michael Gabelman, is swinging away at Louis Butler as "soft on crime." I'm not kidding. His first mailing, signed by six sheriffs and prosecutors, said, "Incumbent Justice Louis Butler favors defendants over police and prosecutors." I am not making this up. Oh, God, here we go. Get ready for millions of dollars in TV spots distorting Butler's record.
Good news? A limp rejoinder by Bar President Tom Basting, but a rejoinder nonetheless: "Judges are not elected to represent the interests of any specific group." C'mon Tom. This is serious stuff. You can do better.
As for Governor Doyle, he said he has not decided to run for a third term but he is "aggressively fundraising" and, I might add, dropping the ball on Supreme Court public financing. The good news? The Assembly put off a public hearing on the bill out of respect for Christmas. How sensitive. Is that a lump of coal in my stocking?
December 18, 2007 Help me
As we head into the Christmas season, I'm looking for good news. Let's face it, there has been plenty of bad news since the Supreme Court hijacked the presidency in 2000 and the Ohio Secretary of State took care of 2004. So, I'm in search of some good things and Tammy Baldwin got it all started when she, Robert Wexler and Luis Gutierrez placed impeachment of Dick Cheney on the table. Thank you!
Never heard of Mr. and Mrs. Morgridge before but they brought hope to thousands of young kids and their parents by committing $175 million for scholarships for kids graduating from Wisconsin public high schools and going to public universities in Wisconsin. Thank you!
NATO is rethinking the Afghan war. Could peace break out? Probably not but they are thinking about it. Thank you.
Gas is momentarily under $3.00 per gallon. The good news? People are onto oil companies' game. The vandals still got the handles but knowledge is power.
Democrats in the House are trying to set a date for withdrawal from Iraq. While success is still out of reach, Obey and Murtha sure are trying.
We have an African American, a woman and a Hispanic running for president. Jesse Jackson started the "Rainbow Coalition" and now we can see it up close and personal.
The FCC Chair is trying to give Rupert Murdoch and the Chicago Tribune the right to own a TV and radio station in the same area where they own the daily newspaper. (Sound like Milwaukee?) John Kerry has taken them on in the Senate and just might stop the FCC's rush to monopoly.
December 17, 2007 Polls and damned liars
Maybe I have the quote wrong but I am tired of mainstream media accepting every poll as accurate and expecting us to believe the results. "Thirty-two percent say candidate X is ahead in Iowa; candidate Y slips to 31 percent" and so it goes. Everyday the sun comes up and every day results of a new poll are announced. Rarely are we told if the poll has been conducted by a group with a bias.
The Wisconsin Policy Policy Research Institute (WPRI) is a Bradley Foundation front and if you regard Bradley as neutral on anything, you have not been paying attention. The MJS reports the polling results from WPRI with enthusiasm. It is the Vatican paper discussing the latest Papal pronouncement. Today, WPRI tells us, through the JS, we are unhappy in Wisconsin. Only 2 percent trust state government to do what's right. (Now, heaven forbid, they wouldn't be subtly telling us that Doyle is a bust, would they? Less popular than Bush? C'mon!)
The JS informs us that this is "part of an annual poll the firm does....and it has a 4% margin of error." Nonsense. I'd put the magin of error at 100 percent. He who designs the questions determines the outcome. I'll bet lunch at the Main Depot that an optimist or a Doyle loyalist calling the same 600 residents could get a complete turnaround. "Seventy percent of Badgers are happy with state government. WPRI dissents."
It bothers me a lot that the JS reporter never identifies WPRI as a neocon front. He treats WPRI with the same respect he would give a real pollster. If WPRI accidentally got it right, another poll would get started and the questions tweaked, or there would not be an annoucement this year about our mood. Would anyone notice? I doubt it. Too busy celebrating the holidays.
"Urgent pleas for 3,500 more military trainers for Afghan security forces"...Robert Gates accuses NATO allies of not doing enough in Afghanistan...and so it goes. (Imagine even thinking about bombing Iran. Yikes!)
Read between the lines: "Hey, folks, we are losing Afghanistan, we've lost Iraq, we've become irrelevant in the Middle-East..." but don't wake the people. More money, more troops, more...more...more.
The Des Moines Registerhas endorsed Hillary. When did the editorial board vote? Before the debate they hosted or after? I think it matters. Bring back the League of Women Voters.
December 15, 2007 Selig to the rescue!
Senator George Mitchell issued his long-anticipated report on the use of illegal steroids in Major League Baseball. Everyone involved in professional sports knew what Mitchell would say because players, the union, the owners, trainers, the Commissioner's office, and agents have known for years that steroids are available and, unfortunately, work to prolong careers and make others. Surprised? Nonsense.
What to do? I'm not kidding, Bud Selig, who makes millions as Commissioner was asked "what's next", and his response gives you a clue about his leadership: "I don't know. I've got a lot to think about." Whoa Nelly! The see-no-evil Commissioner says he has a lot to think about. Think about resigning.
Speaking of leadership, where is the governor hiding? How about some leadership to get public financing of Supreme Court races adopted by the Legislature as all seven Justices asked? (Bill Kraus takes on money in politics in his regular GuestBlog.) The Chief Justice will appear on WPT's Here and Now to push the idea of public financing for Court races. Tune in.
Of interest--Nick Hurtgen the corporate fundraiser for Tommy Thompson, when Tommy ruled Wisconsin, was indicted again.
Gary George argues his law license should be suspended not revoked.
December 14, 2007 Who is in charge around here?
Shocked? Not really. Disappointed? You bet. What am I talking about? The Desmoines Register decided that Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel would be excluded from the last Democratic Party debate before the Iowa caucuses.
As Vince Lombardi hollered, "What the hell is going on out there?" A newspaper decides who can be on stage? That is nuts!
Now, if the paper, like the playground bully, says, "My rules or I'll take my bat and ball and go home," that's OK with me, but why would the other candidates go along with this nonsense? Would they say OK had Biden, Dodd and Richardson been excluded? Where is Howard Dean? What the hell is going on, indeed?
First the Democratic Party leaders permit outside money to determine who will be considered a "serious" candidate, permit the bunching of primaries so money will be all important, and now they permit a newspaper publisher to decide who can put ideas forward in a farce misnamed a "debate."
I watched last night and the remaining candidates were relaxed. Too relaxed. Why? I think it is because they had no fear that Dennis or Mike would raise tough questions. Shame on all of the candidates for not demanding that the Party, not a newspaper, decide who will participate. This should be the democratic party not just the Democratic Party.
Death Penalty dead in N.J. Incredible. New Jersey's Assembly repealed the death penalty by a vote of 44-36, and the Senate voted 21-16. Governor John Corzine will sign. Now that is good news.
December 13, 2007 And we had fun!
Last night we celebrated the 90th birthday of the only progressive daily newspaper in America, the Capital Times. And what a time it was. Dave Zweifel highlighted the spirit of William T. Evjue and his contribution to the progressive movement; the Reverend Jesse Jackson was interviewed on stage by John Nichols in a remarkably thoughtful discussion of the legacy of the Jackson presidential runs in '84 and '88, the sub-prime crime of today and its impact on the world economy, and much more.
It was a night filled with uplifting comments, laughter, inspiration and cake. (We have video of the highlights below and will later make the entire must-see program available on DVD, thanks to Karen Chin and crew.)
Jesse's point on the sub-prime crisis could not have been more timely. The Federal Reserve, like a kid bailing out a sinking boat with a teaspoon, announced it will lend $40 billion more while European banks will pour $50 billion into the effort to save us from economic collapse. "If 14,000 homes in Prince Georges County Maryland are in foreclosure, all homes there lose value. This is not a local problem. This is not just your neighbor's problem, we are all impacted. It is an international crisis."
The root causes--exploitation of the poor and greed.
Thanks to Dave Zweifel, John Nichols, the Capital Times and Jesse Jackson it was one heck of a night. There may have been good parties in the past but none better than this one.
December 12, 2007 AT&T and Christmas tree
Yes, indeed, it is no longer a Holiday tree nor is it a Hanukkah bush. No, it is a Christmas tree writ large. Huzzah! The Assembly is on the ball in putting Christ back in Christmas. What will Mike Huckabee talk about when he comes to Wisconsin now that Wisconsin is back on the Christian team?
And under the tree? A gift from Santa to all 23 lobbyists and consultants hired by AT&T, and I'm not making this up, to promote competetion in the cable industry. You know how much the old monopoly, Ma Bell, likes competetion. And, now it is a one-stop fix--no more meetings with pesky local units of government. Who really needs public access anyway when you can watch reality programs all day?
December 11, 2007 There is hope!
Catch this hot item. "The Association of Wisconsin Lobbyists" has endorsed Toys for Tots. The spokesman did not respond immediately when asked if the toys were first tested on legislative budget negotiators. But there is hope. If the lobbyists, with their own legislature, get into the holiday spirit they just might do something for adults next year.
Now some real news. All seven Supreme Court justices signed a letter calling for public funding of Supreme Court races. "A cornerstone of our state is that the judiciary is fair, neutral, impartial, and non-partisan," the letter said. And it went on, "The public may inaccurately perceive a justice as beholden to individuals or groups that contribute to his or her campaign...Judges must not only be fair, neutral, impartial and non-partisan but should be so perceived by the public."
Today the Legislature will meet in special session, called by the governor, to debate finance reform. If the Court is concerned about the public perception of fairness, one can only hope the legislators are listening.
December 10, 2007 Tax revolt? Really?
Last night the local government channel in Madison carried the Madison session of The Wisconsin Way. You might recall that this brain-child of Wood Communications arrived on the scene based on the premise that there is a property tax revolt in Wisconsin.
Strange bedfellows, WEAC, the Counties Association, and the Wisconsin Realtors announced the tax revolt as if they discovered TABOR cells all over the state. December 6, about 75 people gathered in Madison for the last of 13 sessions. Jim Wood dutifully called on everyone who had a comment and in the hour I watched, about 35 people spoke. What did these alleged-tax- revolters want? More money for education; more money for the Arts; investment in small agriculture; repeal of No Child Left Behind; higher salaries for teachers; public investment in affordable housing; reform of W-2 so those in the program can go to MATC or other educational institutions; an end to incarceration for possession of drugs; universal health care and campaign finance reform. In other words, more money for the common good.
On top of that list of good ideas, people wanted tax loopholes closed; repeal of the M&E tax exemption; and a progressive income tax. It was hardly a tax revolt. It was, in essence a demand for fair and progressive taxes so we can all enjoy a higher quality of life. I didn't hear even one person complain about taxes--except that they are tired of the loopholes. Ah, the "Wisconsin" way.
December 9, 2007 In just two days
On Tuesday the Legislature will convene, lobbyists will put aside visions of sugar plums and tax avoidance, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign will keep fingers crossed as the legislation calling on reform of our very corrupt political system is debated. Yup! State Senator Pat Kreitlow's bill, SB 171 provides for 100 percent public financing of Supreme Court races. One hundred percent! Now there is a threat to the special interests if I've ever seen one. Visualize a fair contest next Spring! Be still my heart!
December 8, 2007 Supreme Court watch dog
During the awful Supreme Court race between Judge Annette Ziegler and Linda Clifford, where money trumped endorsements and issues, it became painfully clear that people and PACs outside the official campaigns raised the lion's share of the money (in the millions) crafted the TV spots, dug up the dirt, framed the contest. (See my March 28 blog to get some of the flavor of the Clifford-Ziegler "contest".) I often complained that the Bar Association was doing nothing to clean up the mess.
This week State Bar president Tom Basting, senior partner in the firm used by Tommy Thompson when he was governor, is fed up with the handling of judicial races. To deal with the problem, Basting announced the creation of the Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee (WJCIC).
Was this an independent initiative? Were leaders in the Legislature consulted? The Court? The governor? Did the Bar Association agree to pony-up some money? All those questions should be answered.
The first commission request: "Asking candidates for Supreme Court to pledge not to run advertising or make statements that are misleading or unfair or which raise questions about the integrity or independence of the judiciary."
Basting appointed people with a variety of backgrounds and some rather narrow political diversity. Let's assume this is well-intentioned and might help in April of next year when WMC has threatened to spend up to $4 million electing a pro-business Justice. The only effective antidote? Public financing. Does the WJCIC have the guts to take on WMC? If a candidate complains that WMC is jeopardizing the Court's independence, because it is, would that violate the pledge? Will chairman Basting tell WMC to stop spending?
Basting, appearing on Wisconsin Public Television's Here and Now last night, said the group would use the media to go after pledge-breakers. How? Is he suggesting the Wisconsin State Journal will carry the Commission's objections? And, if they do, can any paper's editorial scolding match $4 million in TV spots? How much money will the Commission have? Will they have research teams? Will they investigate the truthiness of the TV spots, even if the spots are created by the Swift-Boat-like folks hired by WMC? Will they hire a public relations firm and will the firm be "neutral"? Will the Bar Association's PR staff handle releases.
Enough. Let's give Basting some time, but let's also pass public financing of Supreme Court races on December 11. The Commission is no match for millions of bucks directed to help the WMC candidate. To think otherwise is to ignore history. The Commission should appear at the Capitol next week to push for public financing. If Basting takes a pass, don't hold out too much hope that people, instead of special interests, will elect the next Justice to our Supreme Court.
December 7, 2007 Honest to God
The NYT editorial got it right: "He (Romney)was not there to defend freedom of religion...he was trying to persuade Christian fundamentalists in the Republican Party...that he is sufficiently Christian for them to support his bid for the nomination."
It was Mitt's effort to look like JFK but, as the late Lloyd Benson said in debate with Dan Quayle, "I knew John Kennedy and you, sir, are no John Kennedy."
Romney's speech sounded like a reading from the Baltimore Catechism from my childhood. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God..." and that Christ is the path to salvation. Pahhleeze! This country has survived and thrived for over two-hundred years in part because government has kept religion at arm's length.
As the Times wrote, he "dragged out the old chestnuts about 'In God We Trust' on our currency" and made it clear that this is a Christian nation. He might trust in God, but I don't trust Mitt. This was nothing more or less than a clever campaign speech designed to stop the erosion of his support in Iowa. Shameless really. A Christian nation, indeed. Had I said that in our home as a child, my mother would have sent me to bed without dinner.
Meanwhile, thank you CIA for destroying videotape of your employees torturing people. We have no right to know what you are doing. Look how emotional we got over a little prison sex torture. Thanks. I will go on thinking our country does not torture.
December 6, 2007 All alone
It is difficult to find out what is happening at the Bali conference on climate change. The corporate media have ignored the conference. But we have learned that the first official act of the Labor government in Australia, headed by Kevin Rudd, was to sign the Kyoto accords. That means the U.S. is the only industrial nation in the world that has not signed. Good for us, by golly. Maybe we are right and the rest of the world is wrong. Hey! If a few island nations sink, so what?
The headline in the Toronto Globe & Mail says a lot: "Canada, U.S. and Japan Stress Economics Before Environment." The troika have "gained the image of the black-hatted villains of Bali" for stressing that "economic growth is just as important as the environment." Whoa Nelly! Wake up, Mr. Bush. We are rapidly running out of time to save this planet. Where will your kids hide? Dubai?
The Capital Times is 90: And the Rev. Jesse Jackson will speak at the celebration at Monona Terrace. The program gets underway at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 12. For tickets, call 252-6409. I'm delighted to be asked to be master of ceremonies. This will be fun.
December 5, 2007 Don't confuse me with facts
You have to wonder if the president is cleverly trying to carry out the neocon agenda of a new war against Iran to save the GOP in November of next year, or if he is unhinged. His response to the NIE report that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003, is, in essence, "don't confuse me with facts, I prefer my own fiction." "Mission Accomplished" comes to mind.
For heaven's sake, stop the war talk! Finish the Iraqi fiasco and let the troops come home. When? Now.
Season's Greetings? I'm impressed. The legislature is taking action on a bill that was not drafted and pushed by lobbyists. This is no AT&T cable theft, Murphy Oil pollution issue, or a billion dollar highway. Nope! The legislature will soon rename the Holiday Tree the State Christmas tree. Huzzah! Is this important or what? I heard that Xmas advocates were wild. This should take care of their angst. Happy Holidays everyone.
While the lop-sided tree debate goes on, the Great Lakes Compact goes nowhere. MJS reports that Elm Grove and Brookfield are talking about working together to get water from Lake Michigan. If Milwaukee won't sell, they are thinking about purchasing from Racine or Kenosha. What is going on? The rest of the nation is looking at the Great Lakes while we fiddle. And, of course renaming the Holiday tree. Yikes!
December 4, 2007 While you sleep
While you sleep,lobbyists are working like beavers and the Department of Transportation is hosting public information sessions (a misnomer if ever I've attended one) on their crazy plan to expand I-94 by two lanes between Milwaukee and the Illinois border. DOT won't permit any vocal opposition to the plan but will explain why this $1.9 billion project is "essential" to our economic well-being. Taxpayers? Irrelevent.
DOT operates like a dictatorship. The DOT decides where it wants a new highway or an expansion of an existing one, and the decision is none of your business, nor, frankly, the business of the legislature. Period. The good news? It doesn't matter if the governor is Republican or Democratic. DOT and the road building lobby, rule our state. John Norquist understood the consequences of new highways but few other office-holders pay attention. That's a shame. Ah, schools can wait. Roll those trucks!
Poor Bush-Cheney: The National Intelligence Estimate is in and Cheney is hot. NIE says Iran abandoned nuclear weapon development in 2003. Just when the neocons were building suppport for a few thousand well-placed bombs on Iran, the experts have refuted their intelligence. Didn't stop them four years ago but we are onto their game and it looks as if the intelligence community is as well. Since when are the estimates released to us?
But wait! Wolfowitcz is back! Indeed, the war criminal and national embarrasment has returned to the Department of State. Look out Condi.
December 3, 2007 Give a six pack!
Enemies of fair elections, you know the ones who oppose public funding of elections, wring their hands and act as if publicly financed campaigns would spend us into poverty. And, inevitably, they cry for the public that, according to them, opposes "welfare for politicians". Naturally, they oppose a referendum because public financing is very popular. People are smart and now they are informed.
When we wrote the Heffernan Commission report on fair elections ten years ago, the cost was estimated at five bucks per taxpayer for complete public financing of all state elections. Five bucks---then a six-pack--today less than a six-pack.(One martini at the Madison Club?)
In the 2005-2006 election cycle, legislative candidates spent $6,500,000 even though only about 15 seats were competitive. Who pays? For the most part, those with a special interest agenda. When DOT announces a two billion dollar highway expansion, the enemies of fair elections head for the Club to celebrate. The have earned their keep.
Next time someone tells you we can't afford fair elections, buy him a six-pack and then explain that we can't afford the corrupt system we have.
Hugo Chavez: in losing the referendum, Hugo Chavez may well have done more for his movement than a victory would have accomplished. He sought too much power and the people rejected the power shift. But the good news is obvious. He has changed Latin American politics. With Bush bogged down in Iraq, changes in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Guatemala and Nicaragua send a clear message to the U.S. Hands off!
December 2, 2007 The Surge
Why do I think of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football when the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq hit me in the face? Tens of thousands of mercenaries, more than 170,000 soldiers, a couple trillion dollars spent, nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed, and yet nothing goes right.
Lindsey Graham and the administration have tried their best to persuade us that the surge has worked but, of course, it can't work in the midst of chaos. (Brother Graham went a little far. He claimed the surge is the "most successful anti-terrorist effort in world history." Not even George Orwell could top that. Read Robert Weitzel's superb piece and make your own decision.)
Think about it. Four million Iraqis have been driven from their homes; refugee camps are pathetic; one million have died; the government is a joke. In the midst of all that, we are told not to worry because security in Baghdad is better. Then the NYT reports today, "Nonstop Theft and Bribery are Staggering Iraq": There is, says the Times, "A growing sense that Iraq has stepped to new depths of lawlessness." Now you know why the U.S. sent a couple of billion to Iraq in 100 dollar bills. Someone used that money to get something and it ain't peace. Bribery? Nah.
Bring the troops home now. Develop a U.N. humanitarian effort to deal with the Iraqi refugees. Then, as Cindy Sheehan urged at Bob Fest, build a peace movement.
December 1, 2007 Good news!
Huzzah! Governor Doyle has announced a special session of the Legislature on campaign finance reform for December 11. Ten years from the issuance of the Heffernan Commission report, legislators will debate a "fully-funded public finance system for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates" and that is just the beginning.
Mike McCabe, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's executive director said, "I think it's a good step" and Jay Heck, director of Common Cause, also applauded Doyle's call for the Special Session. As do we all!
It will be important for reformers to agree on a bill and a common approach. The fixers will try to divide and conquer the reformers by pushing one bill over the other.
There has never been a better time for reform. The public is fully aware of the scandals that have fouled the air in and around the Capitol, affecting all three branches of government and it is imperative to restore public confidence in our system. Let's put a smile on Bob LaFollette's monument. Imagine a Wisconsin where anyone can run for public office, no matter how humble his or her background, without having to sell their souls to special interests. Lets' do it!
Kastenmier in Madison:The Kastenmeier Lecture was delivered by the Dean of the Yale Law School, Harold Hongju Koh, and what a thrilling lecture it was. The title,"The National Security Constitution in a Time of Terror" laid out the threat posed by the Bush administration and what we, the people, can do to protect our freedoms. FightingBob.com will make the video available to you. It should be required viewing.
"Is this a private fight, or can anyone join?" -Old Irish saying